Country slows internet to prevent ‘hate speech’

Country slows internet to prevent ‘hate speech’
Special Operations Forces deployments in 33 African countries in 2016. (Map credit: The Intercept)

“The African nation of Chad says it has cut back the speed of the internet to check the spread of messages ‘inciting hate’ on social media,” reports Al Jazeera. Government spokesman Mahamat Cherif said on Aug. 2 that a “temporary measure” to slow the internet had been imposed on July 22 because of “the dissemination of messages inciting hate and division.” The measure would be lifted soon, said Cherif, who is also Chad’s communications minister.

Telecommunications officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the restrictions were triggered by a July 14 video showing a Chadian military officer shooting a mechanic while in a dispute with two of them. Video shows him opening fire on one mechanic at point-blank range, before being attacked with a knife. A prosecutor said one of the mechanics “died of his wounds” while the officer was hospitalised and “will be prosecuted after he has recovered.”

The video is still circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp, and some users have cited the ethnicity of the soldier, pointing out that he is from the same favored Zaghawa ethnic group as Chadian ruler Idriss Deby, who took power in 1990, and sometimes gives preferential treatment to his own ethnicity.

On Aug. 5, Deby denounced what he called divisive use of WhatsApp and virtual private networks (VPN), both of which bypass public networks. “WhatsApp and VPN were not created to insult one another, sow national division or criticise ethnic groups,” he said.

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A consumers’ association on Aug. 2 called for the restoration of untrammeled access to social networks, saying the restriction was a violation of freedom of expression in violation of international human-rights treaties.

Chad has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 of that treaty protects the right to “freedom of expression.” But it allows restrictions on speech designed to protect “national security,” “public order,” or “the rights or reputations of others.” And Article 20 of the ICCPR requires that signatories prohibit “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.”

“Hate speech” bans are used by governments in Africa and Asia to suppress discussion of racially-charged incidents, and to silence criticism of ethnic favoritism by governments dominated by members of a particular ethnic group.

Support for hate speech bans is growing in the United States as well. Democrats in Congress have been pressuring social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to crack down on hate speech. This may sound harmless, but it isn’t. “Hate speech” is a misleading phrase, and it’s no longer just about hate. Even things like expert medical opinions about gender dysphoria have been labeled as “hateful” speech.

“Hate speech” is now broadly “defined” by many to include “offensive words, about or directed towards historically victimized groups,” according to the Cato InstituteCommonplace views about racial or sexual subjects are labeled as “hate speech.” That includes opposition to feminism, affirmative action, or gay marriage, and opinions about how to address sexual harassment or allegations of racism in the criminal justice system.

These broad definitions of hate speech aren’t based on U.S. law. In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that there is no “hate speech” exception to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects speech that offends minority groups. But foreign countries are banning hate speech on social media, and many legal scholars and civil-rights activists are now calling for America to follow their example and ban hate speech by limiting the First Amendment.

Commonplace views can be prohibited as “hate speech.” For example, in 2019, Twitter applied its “rules against hateful conduct” to briefly ban a professor and expert on sexuality for stating in passing that transsexualism was a mental disorder. That was true even though the “bible of psychiatry,” the DSM-5, took the position that transsexualism was a disorder; the professor banned by Twitter had chaired the group that worked on that very section of the DSM-5; and the professor did not express any hatred or contempt for transgender people.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”