DEBATE: Do the Crown Prosecution Services’s new online hate speech rules go too far?
YES – Naomi Firsht, staff writer at Spiked!
Whenever the issue of hate crime is raised, it almost always goes hand-in-hand with some kind of infringement on what we can and cannot say. This time the CPS wants to police our words on social media and in the online world.
Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, says she wants to clamp down on “extreme views” online. But who decides what is extreme? According to the CPS, a hate crime is an offence perceived by the victim to be motivated by prejudice or hostility based on their race, sexual orientation, disability etc. The CPS also says “hostility” can be merely “unfriendliness” or “ill-will”. With such broad definitions how will people know what constitutes a crime?
Tackling bad or abhorrent views should not be a matter for police. It is up to citizens to confront these views, online and off. But that is only possible in a society where our words are not policed.
NO – Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley.
All the benefits that social media has brought notwithstanding, it is undeniable that it has increased the ability to intimidate and abuse others anonymously and without fear of reprisal. Yesterday the CPS issued updated guidance which clarified the definition of hate crime online. The right wing tabloids reacted predictably dubbing it a “snowflake charter”. But in fact, the evidential threshold for such crimes is incredibly high. Few could disagree that if you stir up racial hatred or subject an individual to a coordinated hate campaign online because of their faith or sexuality then you should be held accountable. Rather than asking if it goes too far, the question should be whether it is remotely enforceable. The police are near breaking point; many forces are shelving investigations, numbers of officers are at record lows, and the digital expertise at force-level needed to investigate online offences is lacking. Without the relevant resources it’s hard to see this as anything more than warm words.