The Great Social Media Hatespeak Debate

Over the past few months, we have seen the impact that an attempted fascist coup of the United States has made. Social media sites, just about everywhere, are now starting to (finally) clamp down on hatespeak, and the groups that sponsor it. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword that really points out the major defect in an algorithm-based social media world.

To wit…while the right-wing extremist groups may be effectively dealt with in these media, the people on the other side who actually criticize right-wing groups and all their hatespeak, will also be punished by these same algorithms, because it’s really hard to criticize anything without actually mentioning it.

And algorithms are only as smart as the people who program them. And even these people are given lists of words and phrases to flag.

So on the one hand you hopefully end up with effective control of hate groups, at least on the larger social media sites, but on the other hand, you also end up punishing the more liberal political and social critics, simply because of the words they need to use in their posts to clarify what they are actually talking about.

If you have ever tried to write something critical of Nazism or fascism without using the actual words, you will have a hard time getting your point across. And if you do use them, you run the serious risk of being banned for some length of time, which takes you out of the game altogether.

So far, no one has come up with a way around this very serious social media Catch 22. The most extreme solution is one which Facebook is currently entertaining, which is to ban all political material, left or right.

That of course, does nothing to solve the Catch 22. But at least it will keep those people who are susceptible to the lure of hate groups from being sucked in.

The big problem here is reality. The reality of the situation is that the vast, vast majority of hatespeak comes from extremist right-wing groups. I’ve been looking and I am really at a loss to be able to name any highly visible extremist left-wing groups although I’m sure there must be a few.

Yet these algorithmic restrictions will, in a lot of cases, apply to both the generators and the critics of hatespeak, simply because of the limitations of algorithms and the size of the digital real estate they need to protect.

At the end of the day, the left may very well have to suffer because of the right, but at the very least the right will be, to a great extent muffled in the mainstream social media.

That’s not to say that hatespeak and radical right behaviour is going anywhere, but at least it will be marginalized, like it used to be back before social media came along and gave them a free supercharger to spread their hatespeak far and wide. Back then, they used to rely on newspapers that would show up in your mailbox every so often, pamphlets on your car’s windshield, and interviews on right-wing radio programs.

Today, it’s a way different ballgame with all kinds of ways to reach out and infect gullible people, And as we have seen over the past four years, there really is no shortage of them around.

The bigger issue here is the basic question of censorship. A lot of people are debating that right now and finding out that social media sites are not news media in the legal sense of the world. They are corporately or privately owned enterprises that really provide an outlet for information and opinion.

Personally, I have no problem with being punished if I should step over whatever line they choose to draw. And I have been censured several times, as many of us with opinions have.

But I consider these experiences valuable learning about what I can or cannot get away with saying, in terms of just how explicit my disgust for hatespeak is expressed.

And believe me, I have learned a lot. LOL.


Jim Murray
Jim Murray
I have been a writer since the age of 14. I started writing short stories and poetry. From there I graduated to writing lyrics for various bands and composers and feature-length screenplays, two of which have been produced. I had a  20-year career in senior positions in Canadian and multi-national agencies and a second career, which began in 1989, (Onwords & Upwords Inc), as a strategic and creative resource. Early in 2020, I closed Onwords & Upwords and effectively retired. I am now actively engaged, through blogging and memes, in showcasing businesses that are part of the green revolution. I am also writing short stories which I will be marketing to film production companies. I live with my wife, Heather, in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, after migrating from Toronto, where I spent most of my adult life.

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  1. Well, yeah. The problem isn’t censorship, as I see it. The problem is that publishing books or allowing social media posts that are riddled with lies sets the publishers and sites up for lawsuits. This is more about ass covering than it is anything else, and since the US is the most litigious country that ever was, it’s a big concern. When you create a climate of deliberate misdirection, which Trump has done, there’s a whole lot of fruit from that poisonous tree. But the real core problem, and I get to that in a previous post, is the inability of so many people to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what they see, hear and read. Too many people lack the intellectual ability to really analyze what’s coming at them, and so they can easily be made to believe the most outrageous things.

    • But Jim, wouldn’t a publisher handle that potential by including a simple disclaimer in the front of the book or post, e.g., “The thoughts expressed here are the authors alone. No attempt has been made to fact check…blah, blah, blah.”

      I agree with you on the last bit, but I think it’s also laziness. We are so used to being spoon fed whatever the media puts in front of us.

    • Disclaimers are being contested all the time. The other issue with America these days is that everything is political. If I were a publisher, I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with all the creeps that got let loose after the Trump show was cancelled. But I would be happy to publish another Obama book. Of course, I am a lefty from way back. I respect the conservative ethos. I just don’t see it being reflected in the Republican party these days. And so I wouldn’t want to have anything too do with pushing their current message out into the world. When someone tells 25,000 lies and his acolytes start regurgitating them, that’s just not morally or on any other level. And like you say, lazy people will believe the easiest thing for them to get their heads around.

  2. Jim — The irony of shutting down right-wing, Fascist-type hate groups on social media is that doing so mimics the book burnings that the Nazis engaged in. Anything they didn’t agree with went into the bonfire. We become those we loathe.

    If I am to believe in everything written in today’s NYTimes op-ed piece – – well, then some (many?) of Israel’s practices against the Palestinians mimic those of Nazi Germany against the Jews. We become those we loathe.

    I was just listening to an NPR program about major publishers considering whether to publish books by some conservative players in the former Trump White House – Pence, Conway etc. – because they have told lies in the past. Who becomes the arbiter of “truth”? President Obama’s memoir was published without a whimper, and as much as I respect him, I have to believe that he could slant his pen at times. He’s human.

    The only way out of this is to take personal responsibility for what you read, watch and listen to. My father used to say “A fool is born every minute.” Many of them sit trance-like in front of MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News.