Hate Speech Laws: What are They and Do They Work

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UPDATED March 14, 2022
Written By Merlene Leano

Hate Speech Laws: What are They and Do They Work

Over the past years, the Internet has become the main communication line for businesses and individuals to interact with one another. Along with this is the rapid growth of social media platforms which people use to express their ideas and share their opinions on current events, personalities, and ongoing trends.

Although social media has been quite a convenient tool for both customers and businesses, its advantages also came with a handful of not-so-wonderful disadvantages.

Social media platforms play a crucial role in building community and connecting people around the world. Due to the popularity of social media, more and more users use these platforms and take advantage of their freedom of expression. Being able to write something without any obligation to reveal oneself allows other users to feel zero limits when expressing themselves.

It is this exceeding use of freedom that has brought out the dark side of social media platforms. As some individuals abuse their right to self-expression, social media has drastically become a prolific ground for heated conversations that frequently result in insulting and hostile language.

Online hate speech, racial slurs, and cyberbullying have become more apparent on social media. It has clouded the experience for other users to an extent. In some countries, hate speech and online trolls have become so out of hand that governing officials in some countries have decided to intervene.

These nations perceive hate speech as a serious problem. Consequently, the realization instigated the proposal of several initiatives and countermeasures specifically for anti-hate speech laws.

Are hate speech laws effective in curbing cyberbullying, racism, and other forms of violence carried out online? How do different countries worldwide recognize the importance of addressing the issues regarding hate speech?

Law Against Hate Speech

Hate speech is a public speech that advocates contempt, incites harm to other ethnic or racial groups, or justifies abusive behaviour or violence to other persons or to animals.  Often, these unreasonable arguments are focused on race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

When left unresolved, it poses grave dangers to a democratic society, as well as the protection of human rights and law.

Hate speech laws are made by states to discourage violence expressed verbally towards an individual or a group.

There are two types of laws against hate speech:

  • to preserve public order
  • to protect human dignity

The hate speech laws that were created to protect public order are not regularly implemented, since they require a higher threshold to be violated. But, that is not the case in the laws to protect human dignity. In 1992, a person was prosecuted in Northern Ireland for 21 years for violating a law against incitement to religious violence. These laws that are meant to protect human dignity are taken seriously. In fact, this law is more regularly enforced in Canada, Denmark, France, and Germany.

Hate speech is moving into the mainstream scene and proves to be a danger to democratic values, social stability, and peace. It is a timely and highly important discussion that must be included in the UN’s list of priorities. This is to prevent armed conflict, atrocities, terrorism, and other serious infringements of human rights to promote peaceful and fair societies.

Having regulations and clear guidelines under international law set to monitor how mindful people are when speaking their mind and expressing emotions online is vital in every country. Also, hate speech laws do not necessarily mean prohibiting peoples’ rights under freedom of speech. This is just to prevent the spread of derogatory remarks and the promotion of violent acts from escalating into something more sinister or life-threatening.

Hate Speech Laws By Country

There are several countries with hate speech laws, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Europe, and the United Kingdom. These countries are implementing laws that prevent people from using their freedom of speech as an excuse to attack an individual and promote harm against fellow internet and social media users. Some countries, like the US, do not have hate speech laws in place, since, according to the Supreme Court, the existing freedom of speech law bears no exception for “hate speech” itself, and that they cannot judge a person’s verbal expressions based solely on their perspective.

To better understand the hate speech laws, let’s take a look at the laws implemented in some countries:


Canada hate speech laws recognize the promotion of any verbal harm or abuse against any identifiable group defined by color, race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability, is an indictable offense under the Criminal Code. It carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and there is no minimum sentence.

Also, inciting hatred against any identifiable group is an offense and can be prosecuted with a maximum sentence of two years' detainment. Worse, those who violate the said law are subject to a summary conviction offense with a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment.


Unlike other countries, there are no hate speech laws in the US. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that hate speech laws violate the freedom of speech contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Interestingly, several categories of speech are not protected by the First Amendment, such as speech that calls for violence upon a person or group. However, the U.S Supreme Court maintains the ruling that hate speech does not fall into one of these categories and is constitutionally protected.

Hate speech laws in the United States have become quite a hot topic. Several advocates argue that freedom of speech undermines the 14th Amendment by bolstering an oppressive narrative that promises equal protection under the law.



There are no specific hate speech laws in Europe but they have sponsored the "No Hate Speech” movement to raise awareness. Although Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not prohibit criminal laws against revisionism such as minimization of genocides or crimes against humanity, the Council of Europe recommended in 1997 that governments take actions to fight hate speech. With that, the hate speech awareness gained a stronger recognition and resulted in educational programs in schools that help reinforce the reporting of incidents involving hate speech.


The hate speech laws in the UK, forbid discussions that consist any hateful, threatening, abusive verbal expressions and target an individual on account of their physical or psychological conditions, ethnic or national roots, race, religion, sexual preference, or skin color. The UK hate speech laws penalties include fines and imprisonment. In Scotland, there exists a particular law aimed at football matches. The said law does not criminalize jokes about people's beliefs, nor does it outlaw harsh comments about an individual’s religious faith.


The hate speech laws in Australia provide benefits from suitable remedies to someone who is a victim of discrimination, defamation, or damage on grounds that vary from one jurisdiction to another. While some jurisdictions give compensation when an individual is harrassed because of their color, ethnic root, religion, gender identity, HIV/AIDS diagnosis, or sexual orientation.

Do Hate Speech Laws Work?

Billions of people worldwide are active social media users. The readily accessible internet gave way for other users to voice out their opinion on websites, social media platforms, and online community forums. Faced with the reality that not everyone on the internet has the purest of intentions for their fellow community members, came stronger pressure on the part of platform owners, brands, and advertisers from end-users and government organizations to review and update existing guidelines on what is considered as hate speech. The goal is to help boost protection of targeted groups against online bullying, verbal abuse, and discrimination.

The more open and comprehensive discussions about the basis and limitation of hate speech, the more effectively hate speech laws worldwide can address and resolve the issue at hand.

Due to the massive reports of extreme violence as a result of hateful content on social media sites, countries such as the United States grant digital companies the power to manage their content and enforce hate speech rules. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Germany, force companies to remove any verbally discriminating user content within a given period. Content moderation has significantly helped regulate thousands of user posts that violate the safety of other social media users.

In the first quarter of 2018, Facebook removed over 2.5 million content for violating the platform’s Community Standards. The following year, the numbers increased to 4.1 million in the first quarter and reached 9.6 million in the first quarter of 2020. For the second quarter of 2020, more than 20 million pieces of hate speech content were removed.

Several individuals are still reluctant to accept how content moderation is influencing freedom of expression. Some may feel that content moderation done by companies on a global scale challenges the protection of free speech. In truth, moderation involves meticulous analysis and comparison to pinpoint which information deserves to be maintained and deleted according to standards based on the interest to avoid reputational damage thus affecting the freedom of users to express themselves. However, in the end, they cannot deny the significance of this freedom for a more in-depth public discourse.

Final Words

Hate speech laws are not made to prohibit society to express their thoughts, opinions, or ideas. It is made to prevent people from getting abused, discriminated against, and violated. This is to protect the world against hatred of all kinds and defend human rights and advance the rule of law.

Even though there are countries that don't have hate speech laws, it is not a valid reason to spread hate online. We should all be responsible when it comes to expressing ourselves and our opinions. Social media can be a great way to connect with people but it can also be a dangerous place where hate is easily shared. Whether in the real or digital world, every person has a right to express their opinion, but nobody deserves to be hated and abused.

To protect your social media users from getting abused, content moderation is the key. Chekkee, a content moderation agency that offers 24/7 content moderation and provides text, video, social media moderation services. Our company offers highly expert moderators to handle user-generated content to protect your users, brand integrity, and company from malicious, hateful, and inappropriate content. Our goal is to provide healthy platforms for users to have a safe online experience.

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