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hate speech

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Hate speech is a verbal or written communication expressing a generalized negative opinion about a particular demographic, sometimes attacking an individual as a member of that group. Hate speech often targets particular races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ethnic groups and religions. However, any distinct group may be targeted.

Hate speech is illegal in many countries. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), "any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

In the United States, there are no specific hate speech laws. However, hate speech is an example of unprotected speech, which means that there is no constitutionally-protected right of an individual to express it. As such, hate speech is not covered under freedom of expression, which is codified in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Hate speech is excluded as one form of what is called, in that document, “fighting words.” Other examples of unprotected speech include incitements to violence, libel or slander, and violations of the right to be forgotten.

This was last updated in October 2018

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