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Hate speech is that communication which berates any person or a group based on discrimination against that person or group. It carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for a group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence against a group of persons defined in terms of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and the like.
“Broadly speaking, hate speech law in India has been influenced by two concerns. The first is caste-based discrimination, which is most acute in the case of the ‘dalits’ or ‘untouchables’. The second is religious conflict, which has its roots in communal disharmony between Hindus.”
Websites that host user content, each have their own definitions of Hate Speech. Social Networking site, Facebook, considers content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease as Hate Speech. The issue of hate speech ‘poses vexing and complex problems for constitutional right to freedom of expression’.
The rise of new media has broadened the scope of communication between people all over the world and the Internet. It has allowed people to express their views through blogs, websites, pictures, and other user-generated media. “Virtual communities” are being established online which is beyond the geographical boundaries, eliminating social restrictions. Online communities are like an ecosystem of subcultures, some are frivolous and others are serious.
Expressed hate and abuse is an unfortunate part of our society, and it is now also part of our real-time digital culture. Social Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have been forced to face the fact that their services have become the new playground, where the regular interactions come with an ugly tinge of nastiness. On October 10, 2006, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to issue a notice to Google for alleged ‘spread of hatred’ about the country on its social networking site Orkut, in response to a PIL by a local advocate calling for its ban for hosting a page called “We hate India”, which included anti-India messages and a picture of the nation’s flag being burned.
In 2012, nearly 15,000 people from the North-East left for their home states on August 15 and 16 in the biggest ever exodus seen in Bangalore, triggered by an Internet and SMS hate campaign warning them to leave Bangalore and other cities before the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which was on 20 August 2012. The viral messages warned of attacks by Muslims in retaliation for communal violence in their home state. This exodus was enabled by the misuse of New Media, by way of morphed pictures and videos using footage from incidents outside Assam.
Facebook, YouTube and Google were asked to remove some “objectionable links” and five videos in respect of the Assam violence, and a complaint was filed against certain people under the IT act, accusing them of exploiting the social networking sites to spread offensive false and intimidating messages.
The magnitude of the current problem can be assessed through the following transcript, of an interview given by Mr. Kapil Sibbal, the Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology: “People have been asking why we can’t just prosecute individuals who post hate-speech instead of blocking sites, but there are three reasons why that are not workable. First, many of the individuals posting inflammatory material online are overseas, out of the reach of our laws. Second, the Internet companies have rejected our requests for information on the individuals, citing laws in the countries where the servers are located. Finally, each time material of this kind becomes the subject of legal proceedings in open court, you will have protests, mobs, perhaps violence — even if the media is responsible, and doesn’t report the details.”
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