What is hate-speech?
Encountering a new phenomenon
“Hate speech” is used to describe extreme and derogatory speech, particularly on the Internet. As a rule, it describes racist, anti-Semitic or misogynist messages purposely sent to specific people or groups.
The culture of debate on the Internet is at best merely aggressive, and at worst hateful and threatening. The potential that digital communication offers our society has, in recent years, been overshadowed by a rising culture war.
Although the term has begun to make its way into everyday usage, as yet there is no unified, recognized definition of “hate speech” as such.
Hate speech is not a linguistic term, but a political one, with strong references to legal concepts. In Germany, the phrase “hate speech” may not arise directly in a juristic context, but parallels may be drawn to the (German) legal definitions of “libel” (Beleidigung) or “demagoguery” (Volksverhetzung). Volksverhetzung is committed when someone “1. incites hate against a part of the population, or urges violence against them, or 2. Attacks the humanity of others, in doing so maliciously slandering or disparaging a group in society.” (StGB, §130(1)).
What is counter-speech?
Dealing with a new phenomenon
Freedom of speech is one of the finest achievements of democracy and represents a fundamental right of any free society. However, like every other fundamental right, it is not totally without limits. Freedom of speech ends where it comes into conflict with other fundamental human rights: for example, when others are bullied and slandered into silence. Yet on the Internet, such violations are rarely brought under control. For this reason, it is our responsibility as Internet citizens to uphold civility in online discourse. A respectful and constructive culture of discussion will be thereby supported and requested of others. This is what undergirds the term “democratic digital civil society.”
Counter Speech means that normal Internet denizens respond to and refute hateful rhetoric online. It sends a signal that discrimination and disparagement in comment sections, fora and blogs (to name a few) will not be tolerated, and is thereby the most important way to reject Hate speech on the Internet. Engaged netizens can join together through counter