Regulating hate speech and freedom of expression on the Internet: Promoting tolerance and diversity

Authors F Cassim

ISSN: 1996-2118
Affiliations: Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal and Procedural Law, University of South Africa (UNISA), admitted attorney and conveyancer of the High Court of South Africa
Source: South African Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 28 Issue 3, p. 303 – 336


The development of new accessible technologies and the expansion of the Internet have changed the informational and communicational realities across the globe. The Internet has become a vital and accessible forum for free speech and a marketplace for the exchange of ideas. Online users rely on the safety, security and anonymity of the Internet and social media in their daily lives. However, the Internet has a potential for misuse and abuse. Hate speech involves the use of abusive, racist and disparaging comments, words or phrases directed against particular groups of people. The anonymity of the Internet has facilitated the dissemination of hate speech with such speech becoming more prevalent. Online hate speech has a significant impact on the lives of the people it seeks to denigrate. This article examines the tension between hate speech and freedom of expression on the Internet. This study reveals that online hate speech has become rife, and many countries have introduced laws placing restrictions on freedom of expression in order to curb online hate speech. It is submitted that limits on freedom of expression can affect the free exchange of ideas and information, and erode confidence in the network technologies that are used. It is recommended that appropriate mechanisms should be put in place to preserve the use of the Internet as a marketing, communication and educational tool, and at the same time teach online users to embrace ‘pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness’. A collaborative effort by all stake holders (such as governments, non-governmental organisations, Internet Service Providers, international organisations) is also necessary to curb hate speech on the Internet and to promote tolerance and respect for diversity. The Internet should be preserved as an accessible forum for free speech and the exercise of freedom of expression should be exercised in a responsible manner.