Hate speech vs free speech

Written by Kanz-ul-eman 11:57 am International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

Hate Speech vs Free Speech Explained

Kanz-ul-eman differentiates between hate speech and free speech. She explains how hate speech has thrived under the umbrella of freedom of speech and become widespread in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Various forms of media are being used to disseminate hate speech to incite violence against different groups. The author notes that terrorist groups, in particular, have taken a liking to social media platforms to spread harmful messages and for recruitment purposes.
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About the Author(s)
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Kanz-ul-eman is pursuing her MPhil in International Relations from Lahore College for Women University. She is a content writer as well with 3 years of experience.


This research aims to determine and comprehend the differences between free speech vs hate speech, the variables that distinguish them, and the limit of free speech in today’s democratic and globalized society. To investigate this, I used a qualitative research strategy and a content analysis technique, in which I examined journals, publications, legal provisions, scholarly articles, and many national newspapers. The study’s findings revealed a thin marginal factor between free speech and hate speech, even though many people are attempting to misuse the concept of free speech by disseminating hate speeches. Furthermore, this paper will also discuss how hate speech contributes to terrorism.


Terrorism and hate speech are two very widespread and closely linked acts. These efforts were initially carried out through conventional social networking sites such as commercial television, broadcast radios, newspapers, etc. Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, among other online social networks, are now being utilized for the same purpose. Speech is a sophisticated tool for conveying ideas, views, feelings, and other forms of information from one person to another.

To communicate through social networks, most people employ verbal and symbolic communication (Chetty & Alathur, 2018). The speech might be classified as free speech or hate speech if it aims to balance societal improvement and individual rights. Individual democratic rights are safeguarded by allowing free speech to flow freely.

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Freedom of expression increases a person’s autonomy. Free speech could be one of the causes of hate speech. Consequently, hate speech is regarded as a progenitor of freedom of expression. Hate speech has become trendy, and people are using it to get instant fame without putting in any effort. Hate speech creates an environment in which the limitations of free speech are tested.

Different countries have different laws regarding hate speech (Bhandari and Bhatt, 2012). Hate speech frequently challenges freedom of speech and expression and violates a person’s basic rights. Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental human right necessary for the exercise and implementation of other rights. A society’s democratic potential and institutional commitment to democracy are measured by its citizens’ ability to express themselves and share information.

However, freedom of speech can be abused in other circumstances, resulting in different issues. Individuals and groups may develop superiority complexes regarding a race, religion, or nation to degrade others who do not belong to “their” group and incite expulsion, exile, and even genocide (McCabe, 2013).

Although freedom of speech is considered a political right, it is also considered an intrinsic civil right, indicating that no one can harm or limit human intellect. On the other side, in the name of free speech, speeches that sow hatred, turmoil, and instability in society occur worldwide. The Nazi Party’s anti-Semitic propaganda, Pakistani rulers’ anti-Bengali speeches, Rwandan Tutsi hate speech, and terrorist groups’ anti-Semitic speeches have all been common examples.

Free speech, often known as freedom of expression, is a generally held idea that permits people to talk freely without fear of being punished, censored, or subjected to government action. This freedom is subject to legal procedures, circumstances, constraints, and repercussions in a democratic society. On the other side, hate speech is defined as any speech intended to harm a person or a group by encouraging violence or prejudice based on race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or other reasons (Brown, 2019).

To explain this, the study will use a qualitative approach in terms of research method and a secondary data analysis design in which data will be gathered from newspapers, journals, articles, books, and academic websites. Furthermore, purposive sampling will be used to obtain data for this research paper. Hence, this research paper will examine and compare hate speech vs free speech, how free speech differs from hate speech, and the link between hate speech and terrorism.

Understanding Hate Speech vs Free Speech

Before we begin, some definitions of hate or free speech are important to understand.

Free Speech

The concept of “free speech” could signify one of several things. One is the legitimate obligation to freedom of speech and expression, which asserts that agents must be able to communicate and express themselves. Other agents are compelled to execute negative tasks in reaction to this right. It also generates positive governmental obligations to preserve those negative standards, such as guaranteeing that terrified speakers are protected by the police.

A second definition is a legitimate right to freedom of speech and expression incorporated in a jurisdiction’s legislation, such as the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Many normative political theorists believe the second is simply a legal articulation of the first and should be regarded as such. However, as we’ll see, factors regarding human fallibility and institutional architecture may prevent legislation from matching the moral right to free expression exactly. The ethical and legal dimensions of free speech are discussed in the following sections.

Hate Speech

The word “hate speech” has several definitions. It does not merely refer to hate speech; after all, we can contend that expressing hatred in response to heinous injustices is permissible. On the other hand, hate speech is an artistic phrase for expressions of hatred directed at certain (groups of) people in particular contexts. 

The principle of equality in the freedoms and rights of all individuals underpins freedom of expression or free speech as a right. This right has a five-decade intellectual, ethical, and legal-political history (US Declaration of Independence, 1789). The twentieth century highlights both the affirmation and the critical relevance of freedom of expression in the aftermath of huge societal calamities, for instance, the period between World War I and II, the Holocaust, the Cold War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Examining international documents that lay the foundation for this right (such as the ICCPR, Article 19; ADRDM, Article IV; UDHR, Article 19; ECHR, Article 10; ECHR, Article 116; ACHPR, Article 9, and ACHR, Article 13) can lead us to the conclusion that freedom of speech and expression is a foundational political and civil right.

While hate speech is a word for specific expressions of hatred directed at specific (groups of) people in particular conditions, in Germany, speech that insults, maliciously maligns, or defames sections of society is prohibited, while in New Zealand, speech that is “posing a threat, exploitative, or disrespecting likely to stimulate hostility against someone or bring into lack of respect of any group of individuals… based on the color, religion or ethnicity…background of that person or group of people” is outlawed.

Ongoing Debate on Hate Speech vs Free Speech

The hate speech vs free speech boundary is thin. Hate speech provokes violence, whereas free speech stimulates debate. Because both deal with the free exchange of ideas and sentiments, some individuals confuse hate and free speech. In reality, hate speech is not illegal in the United States because it would imperil free speech. Furthermore, these expressions are fostered because of the confidentiality given by digital progress.

However, when we compare free speech vs hate speech, we can see some limitations. Free speech allows people to express their thoughts and beliefs freely; regardless, there are limits to this right. On the other hand, hate speech encourages others to cause harm or violence while ignoring relevant boundaries.

Hate speech encourages violence by criticizing the opposing party and inciting discriminatory action, whereas free speech encourages debate by portraying both sides of an issue liberally but courteously. Hate speech produces undesirable factions within a society due to its hostile nature, contributing to further societal breakdown. Whereas, free expression is typically linked to societal advancement.

Even though there are some differences, the overall result is a favorable one that promotes healthy societal growth. Hate speech discriminates against minorities by making extreme views public, but free speech defends minorities by encouraging tolerance and recognizing each group’s distinctive contributions. When people conduct free speech in conformity with a system of rules, they are not marginalized.

In my perspective, our identity as democratic citizens is the most compelling argument for freedom of expression. Several experts believe that we require free speech to engage in the enterprise of self-government—to author the laws to which we are subject. While the details of their views differ, is it necessary, for the sake of democracy, to protect hate speech? Citizens of a democracy must be allowed to discuss any opinion they see fit, based on the most recognized recent arguments on these issues, or their society will be undemocratic (Brettschneider, 2012).

Demonstrating that hate speech stands outside the moral right to freedom of expression’s covering canopy is the first step, in any case, toward criminalizing it. The second part was devoted to critically examining the ensuing raging debate. If the ideas that justify the moral right to freedom of speech also explain the prohibition of hate speech, we might call it “normatively protected” (Howard 2016, p. 32).

However, if the ideas that define free speech do not justify the protection of hate speech, the argument for criminalizing or otherwise restricting hate speech could be established. Importantly, just because hate speech is not ethically protected does not mean it should be outlawed. We do not penalize many unconnected behaviors to the substantial ideas that underpin our most fundamental rights, nicknamed “basic liberties,” such as counting grass blades (Rawls, 2005, p.294).

Although different scholars see the unprotected speech in diverse ways in other countries, there are generally nine categories (Freedom Forum Institute, n.d.):

  1. Obscenity
  2. Words of contention
  3. Defamation (including libel and slander)
  4. Perjury
  5. Solicitations for criminal activity
  6. Incitement to impending illegal activity
  7. True threats
  8. Blackmail
  9. Children pornography 

Hate Speech in Pakistan

Each state has its standards for measuring and penalizing persons accused of hate speech and multiple definitions. Hate speech or harmful speech is afflicting minorities (religious, ethnic, sectarian, and faith-based) and other vulnerable groups in various countries worldwide, particularly in Asia. It results in genocides, ethnic cleansing, and many other social and political issues.

Hate speech is also prevalent in Pakistan, with roots in the curriculum, social media, religious worship locations, public forums, and other propaganda hotspots. The following are examples of speech that can be classified as hate speech:

  • Threats or instigation of violence perpetrated at individuals or groups on racial grounds, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or belief.
  • All words and actions that support armed resistance against Pakistan’s state and institutions are prohibited.
  • All comments are aimed at humiliating or policing women, minorities, or other vulnerable groups in public.
  • All forms of public discourse that urge people to inflict harm to public or private property for a political cause are prohibited.
  • All acts of speech that urge people to commit acts of popular violent justice without going through the legal system

In cultures like Pakistan, having robust hate speech laws and laws that explicitly prohibit all incitements of violence against weaker groups, women, minorities, and others is essential.

Religious Persecution

Several other factors have led to Pakistan’s persecution of religious minorities. The situation against minorities began to deteriorate in the 1970s and 1980s due to government actions. In Pakistan, the 1980s policy of Islamization and the rise of the Taliban insurgency, and the political and religious sectors’ support for extremist groups have fueled discrimination, atrocities against religious minorities, and sectarian violence.

Blasphemy laws have been used against religious minorities on several occasions. Although Muslims make up the bulk of individuals charged under this statute, it has made non-Muslims even more susceptible. Furthermore, the method by which religious organizations in Pakistan promulgate these rules has resulted in mob violence (Gill, 2014).

The state has failed to intervene and defend its citizens from violent individuals with nefarious motives, and the assurance of impunity has encouraged them to break the law. Another key factor in the persecution of religious minorities is the misuse of loudspeakers, particularly after they began to be utilized for delivering hate speeches.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2012 report, “the Pakistani government continues to participate in and permit systematic, continuous, and serious abuses of freedom of religion or belief.” The USCIRF has designated Pakistan as a “country of significant concern.”

In its most recent annual report, Amnesty International chastised Pakistan for its appalling record on minority rights. According to the research, “religious minorities continue to experience persecution and mistreatment due to legislation and practices.” As evidenced by several high-profile cases, blasphemy legislation violations happened daily throughout the year.”

“Pakistan’s government did little to stem the escalating toll of killings and repression by extremist organizations targeting religious minorities,” says the 2015 Human Rights Watch Report. “The government is failing at its most basic obligation of protecting the safety of its citizens and enforcing the rule of law,” it continues. “Violent attacks against religious minorities were encouraged by institutionalized discrimination.”

According to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, “Pakistan’s record in protecting groups of its religious and ethnic minority communities from belief violence and discrimination has been far from spectacular in recent decades.” In reality, the current patterns of violence and impunity appear to be reinforcing each other. Extremist militant groups aiming to justify violence and brutality in the name of religion have exacerbated challenges for minorities.

The government’s failure to safeguard people of minority religions and sects from faith-based violence and tackle hate speech, intimidation, and intolerance posed the second set of issues. Nothing has been done to eliminate written discrimination against non-Muslim citizens or to enact protections universally accepted as necessary to prevent blasphemy law abuse.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SC) major decision on religious minorities is equally significant. In a suo moto case relating to the Peshawar Church attack in June 2014, the SC said, “We find that the occurrence of desecration of houses of worship of minorities could have been warded off if the authorities concerned had taken preventive steps at the right time.”

Hate Speech on Social Media

“The Pakistani media is a CIA and RAW operative, Shariat ya Shahadat (Shariah or Martyrdom) is a non-believer, and Shias are dis-believers.” This is not a compilation of extremist slogans on Pakistani streets, but it may be discovered online. Many Pakistani social media users are concerned about hate speech on the Internet. The victims are frequently innocent people and minority groups. The following is an example of individuals being provoked by religious minorities on social media.

This new medium provided a new communication tool to the youth in a country where nearly 60% of the population is classified as youth (under 30 years of age). Even on the Internet, though, society’s bigotry and conservatism remained a concern. Misuse of social media exacerbated intolerance since it provided a venue for people to speak (and abuse) while preserving their desired level of anonymity.

The use of loudspeakers to preach hatred is a behavior that the government and society must address. Hate speeches broadcast over loudspeakers, printed or found on electronic media, and commercially available school curricula or journals have severely harmed society.

Examples of Hate Speech in Pakistan

Hundreds of cases and their outcomes can be provided as proof, but here is a handful to get you started:

  • Thousands of people rioted in Sangla Hill in November 2005, torching three churches, a convent, a missionary school, a girls’ dormitory, and a pastor’s home. A Christian allegedly burned the town’s pages of the Holy Quran. Hundreds of Christian families on Sangla Hill have departed the area due to increased anti-Christian rhetoric broadcast over loudspeakers.
  • In March 2011, almost 200 Christian homes in Joseph colony (Lahore) were set on fire over an alleged blasphemy allegation against a Christian man. This violent attack was allegedly carried out via loudspeakers.
  • The 2009 Gojra riots left unsettling traces, with a Muslim mob attacking Christian homes after being incited by a cleric.
  • In November 2014, an expecting Christian woman and her husband were brutally murdered in the village of Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur district, after being dumped into a brick kiln. The news of their assassination got a lot of attention both regionally and abroad, putting Pakistan back in the limelight for bad purposes. After additional examination, they were guilty of dishonoring the Holy Quran, and approximately 1,500 people from neighboring villages gathered to bash and murder them. An announcement was made at a local mosque, inviting the offenders to assault the hapless couple.

Effects of Hate Speech at the International Level

Like many cases, as seen above that erupted because of hate speeches, these hate speeches also play a detrimental role at the international level. Here are a few instances of how hate speech contributes to the genocide, holocaust, and refugee crises. The example of these few cases are as follows:

Rwandan Genocide in 1994

During the 1994 genocide, hate propaganda broadcast by the infamous Radio Libre des Mille Collines incited the Hutu majority to kill their fellow Tutsi citizens, demonstrating the horrific consequences of decades of hate speech that exacerbated ethnic tensions by spreading unfounded rumors and dehumanizing Tutsi citizens.

More than one million individuals, from babies to the elderly, were ruthlessly slain in less than three months, predominantly Tutsi and moderate Hutu, Twa, and others who stood up to the atrocities.  Between 150,000 and 250,000 women are thought to have been assaulted.

Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

From 2012 to 2017, a campaign of hate and misinformation against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority has been linked to significant human rights crimes. The United Nations Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) to document widespread hate propaganda perpetrated by state officials, politicians, military leaders, and religious leaders.

It further called for the documentation of overall mass killings against the Rohingya minority, including “mass murders, assaults, and sexual assaults, intimidation, forced relocation, and other severe human rights violations.” By August 2018, it was estimated that over 725,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled to Bangladesh, culminating in the world’s greatest refugee crisis and the rape of thousands or even millions of refugees. 

Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the Bosnian War, the importance of hate and disinformation media operations in motivating and legitimizing war crimes was also demonstrated (1992-1995). In Serbian majority areas, regular nationalist propaganda broadcast on party-controlled media channels portrayed Bosnian Muslims, among other groups, as violent fundamentalist adversaries scheming against the Serbs while the opposition was suppressed.

In just a few days in July 1995, Serbian soldiers massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, including boys and men in Srebrenica, a Muslim minority in eastern Bosnia and a “safe territory” under UN supervision. Over 100,000 individuals were killed, and 20,000 went missing during the Bosnian War. Hate speech, glorification of war criminals, and denial of genocide and other atrocity crimes are still widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably in political discourse and the media, highlighting the country’s failure to confront its history.

Spread of Terrorism and Hate Speech

Hate speech and terrorism are two practices that are quite common and strongly linked. These efforts were initially carried out through traditional social networking sites such as commercial television, broadcast radios, newspapers, etc. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube, among other online social networks, are now being utilized for the same purpose.

Hate speech can be spread through social media by reposting a message, responding to a message, and making a statement (Chetty & Alathur, 2018). A hate crime is a despised violent attack in which the assault is planned and carried out using social media. Extremists and terrorists use social media to discover and recruit like-minded people, spread propaganda, and design and carry out attacks.

The government’s and communication media’s public announcements of newly created technology warn cybercriminals and terrorists to find new ways to attack new technologies. Terrorists’ use of virtual worlds has become commonplace, and it will continue to give ideological, religious, or political support.

Terrorism is classed as an upward offense because the perpetrator is from a lower social circle than the intended audience. Still, hate crimes are categorized as downhill crimes because the offenders are from a higher social or influential group in society than the victim’s group (Awan and Blakemore, 2012).

Cyberterrorism is a type of terrorism that employs technological and Internet capacities to physically harm or terrorize the victim. Terrorism or cyberterrorism is one of the reasons for the emergence of hate speech (Deloughery et al., 2012). Terrorism and hate crimes are very close relatives. Following a terrorist event, hate speech is frequently generated and circulated.

Cyberterrorism is a global issue that threatens international peace and security (Mills et al., 2017). Terrorist groups use existing online channels to disseminate inappropriate material, exchange information, and attract younger recruits. Because cyberterrorism is transactional, only local legislation may prevent assaults.

Most terrorist organizations today use discussion forums, e-mail forums, and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Google Earth to communicate with one another. Jihadist terrorist organizations target youth for illegal activities like dissemination, incitement, and recruitment. Terrorist organizations now have access to a digital platform through social media, which allows them to carry out cyberattacks by disseminating messages (Bertram, 2016).

Twitter has recently been labeled a “terrorist’ favored internet tool” for propagating criminal behavior to online users and aiding terrorist contact (Chatfield et al., 2015). To people worldwide, the Twitter social networking site supports radical Islamic practices such as dissemination and member recruitment activities.

Terrorism and the online world are major international concerns that reflect and generate different ideas on global affairs (Conway, 2007). Approximately 90% of today’s modern terrorist activities are conducted via social media on the Internet, according to Evan Kohlmann, a cyber terrorism specialist (Noguchi, 2006). These tools secure users’ identities while making it simpler to communicate with terrorists, discuss issues, and engage in digital jihad.

Hate Speech vs Free Speech
“Facebook Ramps Up Efforts Against Hate Speech” by Statista is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0.

All terrorist organizations employ YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as digital forums for their activities. Terrorists and global jihadists use hate speech and free speech on social media to carry out propaganda broadcasting, psychological motivation, and armament acquisition (Weimann, 2014).

Legal Frameworks

As part of the legal frameworks, some of the generally permitted activities associated with expressions, including freedom of speech and hate speech by national and international entities, are investigated. Legal frameworks provide a collection of laws that allow or disallow certain acts or concepts based on their nature.

Three communities have expressed their opinions; the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are all almost equivalent when it comes to free expression rights. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) mentions free speech rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits hate speech in several ways. The ECHR expands and refines anti-hate speech laws to encompass more phrases, including national security, the nation’s integrity, disclosure requirements in violation of confidentiality, preserving neutrality, and judicial authority.

The ICCPR begins with a few clauses on hate speech but eventually adds a paragraph to cover more. War propaganda and hate speech inspired by country, race, or religion are now illegal under a new clause. ICERD went beyond anti-hate speech by making it illegal to spread concepts that encourage racial superiority, irrespective of whether such distribution leads to assault or animosity. The debate over international legal frameworks reveals that the views of all treaties are nearly the same, except for ICERD’s additional limits on hate speech.


A recent study of definitions from numerous researchers and international organizations defined hate speech as “any speech that criticizes an individual or a group with the intent to harm or dishonor based on identity.” Whereas, free speech is defined as “an ideology that encourages an individual’s or a community’s capacity to express their opinions and ideas without fear of reprisal, censure, or legal repercussion by the government.”

In the debate over free speech vs hateful speech, hate speech perpetrates violence in the same way that freedom of speech can pose a risk of harming individuals, encouraging people to embrace wrong views or a variety of other problems. To put it another way, there is no widely acknowledged communication ideal or flawless order to lead it. Consequently, we might say that the line between free and hate speech is thin. Hurting or degrading the victim relies on how the victim perceives the hatred.

Cyber-terrorism is defined as “the use of online and communications technologies and related instruments on a target segment, such as an individual, a locality, or an object, that uses technology, the Internet, stored data, and software knowledge to hurt the victim.” When it comes to international legal frameworks on hateful speech, it’s worth noting that, except for the ICERD, all framework regulations on free expression are largely the same and slightly different from hate speech.

Hate speech is tremendously detrimental to the people who are the target of it and society as a whole. It is irreconcilable with the concepts of equality and non-discrimination, which are the cornerstones of any democratic society. Hate speech is harmful to society’s peaceful coexistence and the community’s quality of life; it can tear the social fabric apart and divide communities.

Consequently, hate speech can turn into hate crimes, leading to genocide. Many abusers of free speech and freedom of expression claim that it is their right to express their abusive ideas, yet this can lead to dangerous situations in which instability is the result. However, the government can use this machinery to repress their opponents under the guise of national security and hate speech. As a result, a multifaceted strategy should be used to distinguish hate speech vs freee speech and legal provisions so that people are aware of and comprehend the fine line between the two.


After studying the dynamics of hate speech, analyzing the serious consequences of hate speech, and reviewing existing hate speech legislation, I have developed a comprehensive recommendation to supervise and curtail hate speech by promoting the development and promotion of a cohesive and peaceful society that encourages religious diversity and promote equal minority rights. 

  • For religious discourses, demonstrations, and seminary curriculum, the state should establish monitoring, regulating, and standardizing systems.
  • To combat hate speech and hate crimes and maintain adequate reparation for victims, the government should implement a comprehensive policy on equality and non-discrimination and introduce administrative tools against discrimination.
  • The state should recognize hate speech in all of its manifestations, as determined by a thorough analysis of the issue, and create federal and provincial committees to oversee hate speech and its influence on social cohesion and peaceful communities.
  • The state should modify education to promote critical thinking so that youngsters do not fall victim to hatemongers’ false information spread by terrorist groups or extremists on social media. The educational system should also teach children to realize social injustice and foster empathy for affected citizens.
  • The government should invest in national campaigns employing newspapers, television, radio, cinema, and social media to promote non-discrimination and equality for citizens and minorities and raise public awareness about hate speech.


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  • Bhandari, M. K., & Bhatt, M. N. (2012). Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression: Balancing Social Good and Individual Liberty. The Practical Lawyer, January S-5.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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