More than words: seeking consensus to define hate speech
Hate speech is currently one of the most controversial issues regarding internet regulation. On the one hand, it is stated that digital technologies have allowed a viralization of denigrating messages and as a result, members of disadvantaged groups are exposed to aggression, humiliation, and other attacks on their dignity. On the other hand, it is noted that excessive regulation jeopardizes freedom of expression, insofar as tolerating even hostile, offensive, or annoying discourse is an essential part of that right.
Part of the problem is that there is a sharp disagreement on how to define hate speech. Within this scenario, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) is in a position to collaborate in the specification of a common concept, due to its role as the ultimate interpreter of the American Convention on Human Rights. Yet this court has refrained, so far, from doing any deep analysis on which sorts of speech are not to be protected – or deserve minor protection – when considering freedom of expression. In the case of the Internet, this gap has been filled by platforms, who – through their moderation policies – are responsible for eliminating content if it is deemed to constitute hate speech.
The complexity of this controversy compels us to analyze the phenomenon as diversely as possible. Hence, this study focuses on four different Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Panama. It looks at how each of these countries defines hate speech and how they address it. This approach is made both, from a legal and a social perspective. The aim of the former is to find the common properties of hate speech in the region’s legal system. The latter seeks to expose how groups who are regularly slandered on the web endure such hostility, and how they conceive it in light of what is established by their legal systems.