Hate Speech and Illegal speech, should be regulated or not?

Should Hate Speech be Censored?

Should Hate Speech be Censored? Nadine Strossen, All rights reserved.


Can you imagine what it would be like if the social platform you use is full of hate speech and illegal speech? As the most widely used information sharing platform, social media platforms enable users to share everything quickly and efficiently to the world. However, the rapid spread of information also brings a series of problems, among which hate speech and illegal speech are the most concerned. Hence, the regulations about social platforms to remove hate speech and illegal speech should be applied in the Australian context. This blog post will discuss this point of view by explaining how hate and illegal speech incite violence and the shortcomings of Australia’s online regulation. Besides, some counter-arguments like the impact of online regulatory on freedom of speech and social development will be provided to discuss this issue critically. However, before all this, I am going to introduce a brief history of hate speech and illegal speech regulation in Australia.

Brief history of  the hate speech and illegal speech regulation in Australia

Illegal speech and hate speech are two different concepts. Illegal speech is simply speech that violates the law, like fraud and verbal harassment, but hate speech is a kind of insulting or discriminatory speech directed at individuals or groups which based on their religious, nationality, gender, colour, etc. (Fino, 2020).

Most common words used to define hate speech

Most common words used to define hate speech, eSafety Commissioner, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The first law against hate speech in Australia was introduced in 1975, called the Racial Discrimination Act, which stipulates the racial discrimination illegal under certain circumstances in Australia (Federal Register of Legislation [FRL], 2014). The latest bill on hate speech was issued in June 2018 in New South Wales (NSW), named the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Bill (Parliament of Australia, 2020). In addition, in April 2019, the latest law on illegal speech announced by New South Wales will regulate (as far as 2020), and mainly focus on managing the content of violent information on the Internet (Parliament of Australia, 2020).

The importance of regulating hate and illegal speech

The regulation about hate speech and illegal speech should be applied in Australia is  because it can prevent and reduce incitement to violence. According to the research from Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2018), as of the end of 2018, there were approximately 14.7 million people in Australia had access to the Internet, accounting for about 88% of Australia’s total population in that year. This has led to the rapid spread and amplification of illegal hate speech content on the Internet, which combines people’s real-life with violence and inciting violence in society. For example, the terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had used social media platforms as tools to recruit members. They published more than 1,000 ‘propaganda events’ in a month on over a dozen different social media platforms (Brooking and Singer, 2016). Since social media can spread information all around the world very efficiently, over 3,000 foreign nationals were attracted by this illegal hate content and immigrated to ISIS-controlled areas in order to support them, including people from Australia (Blaker, 2015). However, the impact of such incitement to violence would be greatly reduced if the IT companies like Facebook and YouTube were required to review most of the notices about illegal hate speech within 24 hours and delete or disable access to such content when necessary, in line with European 2016 regulations on illegal hate speech online (“European Union”, 2020). Therefore, this kind of regulation should be applied in the Australian context.

In addition, the main reason this kind of regulation needs to be enforced in Australia is that the regulation on online illegal hate speech in Australia has not worked well. Depend on the survey form eSafety Commissioner (2020) in August 2019, there was approximately 14 per cent of 3,737 adults in Australia between the ages of 18 and 65 received hate speech online about religion, race and gender in the past 12 months. Moreover, the survey also pointed out that over 70 per cent of adult Australians think that the new law about online regulation should be adopted, and nearly 80% believe that social media platforms need to do more (eSafety Commissioner, 2020). These data all proved that Australia’s online speech management is not recognised by the public and needs to be improved. Therefore, it is very necessary for Australia to implement regulations on social platforms to eliminate hate speech and illegal speech.

Perspective from the proponents of hate speech protection

The proponents of hate speech protection argue that the removal of hate speech and illegal speech on social platforms damages human freedom of speech. Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental but also the most critical human rights. Everyone has the right to share thoughts or express opinions freely, and this right also includes the freedom to seek, receive and spread ideas and thoughts from all kind, even without restrictions of form or state (O’Flaherty, 2012). Deleting speech and thoughts from social media seems to violate this human right.

The line between hate speech and free speech

The line between hate speech and free speech, UCSD Guardian, All rights reserved.

Supporters of hate speech protection believe that the ability to express oneself freely is an essential part of individual freedom and autonomy, and the government should protect these speeches instead of removing them from social platforms entirely in order to suppress hate speech and illegal speech (Ring, 2013). While the right to free speech clearly sets some limits, such as respecting the reputation of others and protecting public order, it also makes clear that only certain purposes are legitimate when it comes to banning hate speech (O’Flaherty, 2012). Therefore, in order to maintain freedom of speech, the regulation on social platforms to eliminate hate speech and illegal speech should not be enforced in Australia.

Those who support the protection of hate speech and illegal speech also believe that these speeches can contribute to the development of society. The content published on social networks, whether it is hate speech or positive speech, represents the most authentic thoughts of the public which can be regarded as the most intuitive way to understand the situation of current society. For example, in the survey mentioned above, the most common content of hate speech received by Australian adults is about religion, race and gender (eSafety Commissioner, 2020), which shows that there is still discrimination in these areas that cannot be ignored in Australia. Although these hate speech and illegal speech can be very harmful, they clearly and directly point out the shortcomings in society, like a mirror, reflecting the ugliest side of society. If hate speech and illegal speech regulation are implemented in Australia, those kinds of contents will be deleted or reduced on social media platforms. Thus, the society will be panicked and in a deplorable circumstance as people in the society would no longer be aware of the existence of such discrimination (Schwartzman, 2002). On the contrary, such hate speech points the way for the development of the society and gives the society a clear development goal. So, this online regulatory should not be applied in the Australian context.

Possible Implications

Online hate speech and illegal speech regulation, if implemented, will have a great impact on the Australian society. The most obvious impact will be seen in children and adolescents. Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA, 2019) has pointed out that there were nearly half of the children who aged from 6 to 13 in 2018 in Australia have access to mobile phone, an increase of 7% compared to 2013. Unfortunately, their immature minds are susceptible to illegal hate speech and illegal speech on the Internet, which may have unimaginable consequences.

Digital media challenge children’s rights around the world: The case for a General Comment on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Lars Plougmann, CC-BY-SA 3.0

When the regulation is implemented in Australia, online hate speech and illegal speech will be greatly reduced or completely eliminated, which means that children will not be harmed by such speech. Additionally, such regulations will also make the user’s online experience easier and more enjoyable.


In short, Australia should adopt this online regulation to force social media platforms to delete hate speech and illegal speech. It can not only prevent and reduce incitement to violence but also can help Australia improve the network environment. Although someone argues that this kind of freedom can damage the freedom of speech and conceal the social situation from the public, Australian society needs these systems to prevent such speech from harming children and young people. However, there seems to be a lack of legislation in Australia to require social media to delete inappropriate comments. Hence, I hope the Australian government can strengthen network management policies to protect Internet users from the harm and impact of such comments.


Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2019. Kids and mobiles: how Australian children are using mobile phones. Retrieved from: https://www.acma.gov.au/publications/2019-11/report/kids-and-mobiles-how-australian-children-are-using-mobile-phones

Australia Bureau of Statistics, 2018. Internet Activity, Australia. Canberra, Australia: ABS.

Brooking, E., & Singer, P. (2016). WAR GOES VIRAL. The Atlantic Monthly, 318(4). 70-83.

Blaker, L., 2015. The Islamic State’s Use of Online Social. Media Military Cyber Affairs, 1 (1), 1-9. doi: 10.5038/2378-0789.1.1.1004

European Union: The Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online. (2020, June 23). Asia News Monitor. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/2415459490?accountid=14757

eSafety Commissioner, 2020. Online hate speech: Findings from Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Retrieved from https://www.esafety.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-01/Hate%20speech-Report.pdf

Fino, A., 2020. Defining Hate Speech: A Seemingly Elusive Task. Journal of International Criminal Justice, 18(1), 31–57. doi: 10.1093/jicj/mqaa023

Federal Register of Legislation. (2014). Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2014C00014

O’Flaherty, M. (2012). Freedom of Expression: Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No 34. Human Rights Law Review, 12(4), 627–654. doi: 10.1093/hrlr/ngs030

Parliament of Australia, 2020. Regulation of Australian online content: cybersafety and harm. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook46p/Cybersafety

Ring, C.E. (2013). Hate speech in social media: An exploration of the problem and its proposed solutions. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1491383571/fulltextPDF/9A558246EBD14C4APQ

Schwartzman, L. (2002). Hate Speech, Illocution, and Social Context: A Critique of Judith Butler. Journal of Social Philosophy, 33(3), 421–441.

About Liz Wang 3 Articles
A second-year student from the University of Sydney. Studying Bachelor of Arts, and major in Digital Culture.