Friday, October 2, 2009

Online Hate Speech

Here's an article in USA Today on online hate speech and the difficulties in policing it. It highlights something about Facebook, Google and YouTube that seriously sets me off, and that is the tolerance of hate speech against people with developmental disabilities. They do so because they do not believe that using the "R" word or mocking those with developmental disabilities violates their terms or definitions of hate speech.

Facebook spokesman Simon Axter says complaints about nudity, pornography and harassing personal messages are responded to in 24 hours, but other sites require more scrutiny, and use of the word "retard" isn't considered hate speech. "Our team has had a lot of discussion about ... what is hate speech and where Facebook should be drawing the line," he says. "The mere use of the word 'retard' is not a violation of terms of use." Oh really? Is it really just the "mere use of the word" when Facebook allows the quiz "How Retarded Are You?" I think not.

According to the Facebook Code of Conduct, users "may not post or share content that...makes threats of any kind or that intimidates, harasses, or bullies anyone or is derogatory, demeaning, malicious, defamatory, abusive, offensive or hateful. Moreover, creating groups that attack a specific person or group of people should result in immediate termination of the creator's account. Note: groups that attack a specific person or group of people (e.g. racist, sexist, or other hate groups) will not be tolerated. Creating such a group will result in the immediate termination of your Facebook account."

Is the use of the "R" word just too broad to fit the qualifications for hate speech against people with disabilities? (said with sarcasm) Fine, do a search on Facebook for 'Down syndrome' and you'll turn up thousands of hits. While many groups are positive, there are those which are not. Try this, search for 'looks like Down syndrome' and you'll find a number of groups disparaging people with Ds, clearly in violation of Facebook terms.

Google and YouTube spokesperson Scott Rubin says, "We don't permit hate speech" and they define it as content "that it attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status and sexual orientation or gender identity. Though sites may include offensive words, content is considered hate speech only if comments or videos target a person simply because of his or her membership in a certain group."

Let me see if I understand this. As long as the groups, pages, videos or comments that use the "R" word or reference Down syndrome or people with developmental disabilities, --as long as they are making fun of themselves or people who DO NOT have developmental disabilities, then they are not in violation of the terms. Meaning, you can choose to take the quiz on Facebook to make fun of yourself. The Facebook group 'Paris Hilton looks like a Down syndrome horse' makes fun of Paris Hilton. Videos, comments, groups that are created to mock themselves or others by comparing them to a person with developmental disabilities is all in good fun? It doesn't actually target a specific group. Hmmm?

Just for fun, let's pretend that the quiz was not "How Retarded Are You," but rather about a specific race, ethnicity, or religious group. Does that change your perspective? Why does the anonymity of the internet give people the permission to spew hatred that they likely would not do if they had to be identified in real life? Why is asking for a basic level of respect considered a violation of the right to free speech?

If these things bug you too, there are actions you can take. Most of the sites have a way to report the offensive content. Even if it seems pointless, try to do it anyway. Join 8,500+ of us who are members of the Facebook group REMOVE the "How Retarded Are You Quiz" Off Facebook. Join OZ SQUAD (more on that later). Flood the net with positive messages about people with developmental disabilities and work to change minds. It's worth the effort because the results mean a more safe and inclusive world for all of us.

I'd like to end with a sweet episode of the children's program Calliou called 'Calliou and the Dragon' in which Calliou makes a friend with special needs. Please watch it, but don't read the comments (posted on YouTube) unless you're ready to take action.


Kristen said...

Thanks Jen!!! I linked back to you on my blog. Is there an app out there asking How much of a n-word are you? That is not acceptable as the r-word quiz is not acceptable! Grrrr...

Terri said...

I read this article too. People do not seem to believe in ableism. They don't see it in themselves or anyone else... No other minority tolerates hate-language about them without protest, and neither should we!

JRS said...

KRISTEN- Thanks and you are 100% right.

TERRI- Agreed!