You Can’t Say That: An Analysis of Informal Hate Speech Regulation in the United States

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Title: You Can’t Say That: An Analysis of Informal Hate Speech Regulation in the United States
Author: Criss, Danielle
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research
Thesis level: master's thesis
Abstract: This paper examines Hate Speech Regulation in the United States of America. It is not a paper that claims that there should not be any regulation of hate speech, nor does it claim that there should be more. This is not a free speech debate. The purpose of this paper is to offer an alternative perspective in the debate in which both sides have a valid point, yet nothing need change. In this perspective there may be a need for further regulation of hate speech in order to fill the gaps which exist in current American policy; however, gaps that are filled, informally, by the public. This paper begins by examining the regulation of speech that already exists within the Constitution of the United States and how its structure provides for the near impossibility of additional regulation. Despite this obstacle, additional regulation of hate speech in the United States remains a hot topic for debate. Arguments from both sides are outlined in order to gain a better understanding of the debate and where this new perspective fits into the argument. The paper progresses by describing a history of ‘hate’ in America from the perspective of race relations, one of the more visible forms of prejudice in America. From slavery and southern racism to modern day hate speech, this paper examines race relations in the United States in order to describe the effects it has had on U.S. politics such as Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement and finally the constitutional regulation of speech. It is the goal of this paper to provide evidence that the limitations of the US Constitution and the popular demand for more speech regulation have created the phenomenon of informal hate speech regulation. The theory for this paper was developed from my personal experiences as a minority and through research; more specifically, discovering the 2006 Times Magazine ‘person of the year’ article. The 2006 TIMES Magazine person of the Year was 'YOU.' Each individual was person of the year because, with the aid of new media technology, s/he had seized power from the few by taking control of his or her sources of information. That same year, a prominent senator and rising star candidate for president, George Allen not only lost his reelection but had essentially been forced out of politics by the ‘masses’ for having used hate speech on the campaign trail. This event is the main case study for this paper. Minor case studies, also presented in this paper, include other instances of political elite and staffers losing their positions or being forced out of politics all together by ‘average’ citizens for having used hate speech. The research of David Altheide presents an explanation of media power, how it is utilized and its potential to set agendas and shape not only opinions but society and culture as well. With the aid of his research, this paper demonstrates how the powerful few have been using media to influence and manipulate society for decades and describes the steps involved in accomplishing this. The theories of Kate Nash were then used to help describe how globalization has led to the nation-state no longer being the center of political activity. This paper then explains that new media, which maintains or even surpasses the power of traditional media and is perhaps the new center of political activity, has changed politics and how social change is accomplished. Finally, a method of Critical Discourse Analysis, developed by Thomas Huckin, is used to offer evidence of informal regulation of hate speech. His method uncovers the discursive techniques used by authors to manipulate their audience in order to shape social change. These discursive techniques are then applied to articles written about George Allen during his campaign. By outlining the manipulation in these articles and offering polling data during the campaign, this paper presents a solid argument that George Allen and the other ‘speech offenders’ are simply malefactors of informal hate speech regulation.
URI: URN:NBN:fi:hulib-201703272119
Date: 2012
Discipline: Social Policy (prior to 1.8.2011)

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