“It’s time to have a conversation about our hate speech laws”

Green MP Golriz Gharahman has been busy on Twitter encouraging “a conversation about our hate speech laws”.

She has first hand knowledge of hate speech, having been on the receiving end of awful attacks online.

This has also been promoted by the Green Party.

We now know that hate speech allowed to grow and be amplified online is undermining democracy around the world.

In New Zealand we know that it can be fatal.

The Bill of Rights Act protects free speech, but it’s balance against all our other rights. Our laws already protect individuals against harmful speech. You can’t threaten people. You can’t harm their reputation.

This isn’t really very accurate. The current laws don’t protect us, they give us some means of doing something about being threatened or having our reputations being harmed, but these means are usually far too slow and too inexpensive.

The police will only act on alleged threats if they thing there is a risk of serious harm.

Defamation proceedings are lengthy (Blomfield v Slater has taken six years so far to find that later had no defence, but damages are unlikely to be determined for another year or so) and very expensive. Most people can’t afford to protect their reputations via our current laws.

If defamation against individuals is already illegal, why should people be allowed to harm minority groups.

Including major minority groups?

What constitutes ‘harm’ is contentious and difficult to define. It can range from perceived hard feelings to escalation to actual physical harm.

Most new Zealanders would be shocked to find that our hate speech laws don’t cover religious minorities. They don’t cover gender, the Rainbow community, or the disabilities community.

All religions are minorities. There re no single ‘communities’ of Rainbow or for people with disabilities.

We need to change that.

We must make New Zealand the kind of place where we all feel truly safe and at home.

We certainly should work to change things for the better when it comes to speech.

But is it possible for everyone to feel ‘truly safe’ from hurt, while also feel truly safe to openly say what we think?

From follow up tweets:

You definitely shouldn’t be allowed to spread hate against a protected group based on your religion. Having well defined hate speech laws that assert equal protection for everyone’s rights and safety would do just that.

Deciding on “well defined hate speech laws that assert equal protection for everyone’s rights and safety” will be very challenging. And equal protection means there should not be specified ‘protected groups’.

It’s frightening that LGBTQIA communities aren’t protected against hate speech in NZ given the very real violence that translates to. Why is it unlawful to speak harmful mistruths about an individual and not a group?! Definitely time to realise we’re behind on this one.

Violent and intolerant language can contribute to actual physical violence – but a lot of harm can be done just with words.

A lot more tolerance of minority races, ethnicities, nationalities, political preferences, religions, gender and sexual preferences would be a major step forward.

But alongside this there must be some tolerance of speech that some people may feel uncomfortable with or offended by – it is common to hear people saying they hate opinions that differ from their own.

We need to have more than just conversations about how we address harmful speech, we need to have a robust debate about the balance between potentially harmful speech, and the freedom to speak in a normal and socially acceptable way.