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Facebook, Free Speech and Hate Speech

Note: This letter appeared in The New York Times on June 4, 2013.

May 31, 2013

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Hate Speech on Facebook” (editorial, May 31):

The issue of hate on the Internet is hardly restricted to misogyny, as despicable as online attacks on women certainly are. The Internet is a viral breeding ground for anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and many other categories of attacks on people. Despite the schoolyard adage about “sticks and stones,” hate speech does cause hurt, and, as we have witnessed too many times in society, can and does have its real-world victims.

More generally, online hate pollutes the Internet environment, from Twitter to YouTube to the online comment sections of news sites. To its credit, Facebook has been an industry leader in addressing online hate, participating in an experts’ working group convened by the Anti-Defamation League.

The company immediately admitted its lapses on the women’s hate issue, and is now working to come up with solutions to other forms of hate speech on its pages, including Holocaust denial.

With luck, the recent incident will serve as a clarion call — not only to Facebook, but to other social networking sites as well — that they have a vested interest in promoting a civil, safe Internet. All responsible Internet hosts should consider a carefully calibrated approach that balances the interests of free speech with the imperative of providing a hate-free environment for all users.

Sincerely,

Abraham H. Foxman

Christopher Wolf

The writers, national director and civil rights chairman, respectively, of the Anti-Defamation League, are the authors of the forthcoming book “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet.”

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