Hate, Harassment, And The Right To Report

Sep 30, 2019

The State of things partnered with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for a special conversation about hate speech and the first amendment.
Credit UNC / Abby Cantrell

The internet has a hate problem. Trolls, white supremacists, and other hate groups spew vitriol and harass users on social media. The First Amendment protects hate speech, but the internet further blurred the line between speech and crime.

To unravel the web of rules and laws concerning hate speech, The State of Things partnered with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for a special broadcast recorded in front of a live audience at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. Stasio starts the conversation with Mary-Rose Papandrea and Rachel Glickhouse who explain how a criminal act must be committed for vitriolic speech to be treated as a crime. Papandrea is a professor of constitutional law and associate dean of academic affairs at the UNC School of Law and Glickhouse is a journalist and the partner manager for ProPublica's Documenting Hate project. 

They continue the conversation by homing in on the experience of female journalists who experience heightened levels of harassment online. Allen Johnson and Elisa Lees Muñoz analyze the shifting job of journalism and how online hate and harassment presents new challenges. Johnson is the executive editorial page editor of the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal, and Muñoz is the executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation. Plus, Wendy Scott joins the conversation to talk about how speech is regulated differently in private and public venues. Scott is an associate dean for academic success and a professor at Elon Law. Host Frank Stasio talks with the panel to understand the limits of the law when it comes to hate speech and how that speech affects those on the receiving end of hate.

Interview Highlights

Mary-Rose Papandrea on the tension between protected hate speech and its impact on marginalized communities:

There's a growing concern that hate speech does cause real harm to marginalized communities, in particular, that it's silent speech. So if you're thinking more holistically about our marketplace of ideas, which is the hallmark of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence⁠—better to let all speech thrive and compete⁠— then you're actually silencing some important speakers in this marketplace who don't feel comfortable speaking because they are targeted because of their race or ethnicity or gender.

Rachel Glickhouse on the variance in hate crime laws nationwide:

Not all police are trained in how to investigate hate crimes or what the hate crime law is in that state. Those rules about what police should be trained in varies by state. For example, some don't get any training [on hate crime] in the police academy. Some cities have a dedicated bias crime unit, many don't. How the individual police department will treat these types of crimes and the gravity to which they assign them can vary widely.

Elisa Lees Muñoz on the impact of online attacks on journalists:

What we have found through our studies is that it causes similar impacts to PTSD, to being physically attacked. So these are really serious attacks. And they've often been called online harassment, and I don't call them harassment on purpose, because they are attack. They impact journalism tremendously. They impact the way that women journalists approach their stories, and they impact the stories that they're willing to take on. And they drive younger people, mostly younger women, out of the news profession, which just exacerbates the gender inequity that already exists in the news media.

Allen Johnson on the lack of diversity in newsrooms:

I've gone through this over my career and talking about diversifying the staff and hearing very flimsy excuses for why staffs aren't more diverse: We can't find one … We can't find one who's qualified enough. Or: We had one one time, and it didn't work out. I just have never bought that … I've seen too many people of color who are really good and who have done wonderful work in this profession to know that that's not true.

But the other thing that's happened with the economics is we've downsized. We don't hire as much. Staffs are smaller. And when we started downsizing, a lot of journalists of color were casualties. And so a bad situation didn't become worse, it became terrible.

Wendy Scott on using the first amendment to guide private speech regulation:

That gives me pause...to say we need to jump in and regulate and say who can't say what. On the other hand, it takes us back to hate speech and the fact that there are words that cross the line. Even though the court has only carved out a few exceptions, those exceptions can give us guidance in how we regulate speech online. So if you were, for instance, to think about Alex Jones and the things that he has said, could we apply the First Amendment test? Is he falsely shouting fire? Is he inciting imminent lawlessness? Maybe that standard could be applied. That could be a guide to self regulation [or] private regulation.