by Jessie Jin
Image: Mike Gifford / Flickr
From the appalling anti-black, racism-motivated murder in College Park to the violent attack on an elderly Asian woman just a few days ago (as of this writing), the United States has reached an all-time high in hate crimes. The Anti-Defamation League claimed that 3566 “extremist propaganda incidents” occurred in 2020, a considerable increase from the 2704 recorded in the same time range, but of 2019. What this means is a significant increase in white nationalist crimes and events in 2020. Due to the number of violent hate crimes being committed in the United States, white supremacy has been dubbed “the biggest security threat facing the United States today”, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
Significant civil rights progress and hate groups have shown a correlation throughout many years. Though it might not be causation, civil rights progress definitely contributes to the rise of hate groups and hate crimes after the event. An example is the rise of hate groups after Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States, came into office in the 2008 election. It was reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center that hundreds of abuse cases had occurred after the November 4 election, including numerous white supremacist groups becoming more active to recruit members. An earlier example is the surge of activities from the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist hate group, after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case made a decision to outlaw racial segregation in public schools. These historical observations seem to suggest that the privileged ones who often feel threatened that their “rights are being taken away” with civil rights progress often resort to propagating ideas that slow the progress of equity, often even using violence to spread their message.
The Black Lives Matter movement caught media attention in the summer of 2020 and brought about the most recent large-scale civil rights movement, when George Floyd, an African American man died due to a white police officer handcuffing and kneeling on him on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Similar to the events above, a huge civil rights movement triggered from the brutal death of Floyd caused increased activities from white supremacist groups as well. Though not confirmed, a white nationalist group announced that their members were increasing more dramatically during the BLM protests. This account suggests that though civil rights movements are extremely crucial in tackling overall hatred and discrimination towards minority groups, some setbacks ignited by progress must be addressed more seriously so that further equality could be achieved.
One such way would be reducing the amount of online anonymity and increasing platform regulations. With the predominant power of the internet in the world today, social media platforms make it easy to spread and normalize hateful propaganda. The users causing the spread of hate speech and extremism range from individuals defending their moral stance, to large terrorist organization groups, such as ISIS, who were known for their large-scale activities and promotions of race motivated-violence on Twitter in 2015. Hate speech, a showcase of verbal violence, and threats of physical violence on online platforms are extremely problematic for several reasons: it provides a sense of belonging for those promoting hate speech, is difficult to regulate, and is subjected to reoffense. It is morally reprehensible and moreover, concerning to normalize hateful narratives by gathering those of similar opinions as to the hateful individuals and providing a sense of belonging on these online platforms. This encourages their behavior, sending a message that it is acceptable and widely agreed to believe in certain values. Another problem is the difficulty in tracking down these activities. Many social media platforms with a high degree of freedom of speech have hateful conduct policies that would censor hateful words, or take down accounts. However, this has a problem of preventative measures being low stakes and ineffective. Hate speech can easily convey its message by using certain symbols in replacement of a few letters to enable the publication of it. The message might get reported and taken down, but that’s often a while after it has been spread, conveyed a message, and impacted many people. That leads to the third factor that the incompetent policy makes these actions highly subjected to reoffenses. Due to the low stakes of having an account reported or blocked, users can easily create new online identities to continue the spread of hate speech. To limit the amount of online anonymity and increase platform regulations on IP addresses that spread hate speech would be beneficial towards regulating its spread on social media. Another possibility with more legal weight would be the government defining hate speech more clearly, as well as putting stricter regulations in law enforcement.
So why can’t the government act before a crime gets committed? Shouldn’t counter-extremism organizations focus more on preventative methods and interventions that will efficiently deter people from being terrorists? This should not be a national effort that stops with more social media regulations, but one that starts with it. By slowly easing preventative measures into everyday lives online and offline, heavier regulation of what is being said online should be a considerable way to tackle the rise of hate crimes today – with a balance between the amount of regulation and privacy citizens should have. Hate crimes have become more than the rare, trifling crimes. They must be handled with the same seriousness as any other criminal offenses, so the rise of hate-motivated crimes and extremism can be alleviated.