Autocracy Rising, Europe Edition

It’s hard to get a real sense of the magnitude of the issue from afar, but it seems like thought-crimes are on the rise in Europe. So-called “hate speech” laws have been predictably deployed to censure dissident views, particularly on hotly contested issues — like immigration, which just so happens to be one of the most hotly contested issues in Europe (and everywhere in the West).

But hey, why debate the merits of immigration when you can just make criticizing immigrants illegal?

From the UK (in a story from last year):

The number of people being arrested for “online crimes of speech” have increased dramatically in London.

While arrests for aggressive, threatening or hateful speech on social media declined between 2010 and 2013, the numbers rose last year.

According to the Register, a total of 2,500 Londoners have been arrested over the past five years for allegedly sending “offensive” messages via social media. In 2015, 857 people were detained, up 37 per cent increase since 2010.

. . .

The legislation has been used to arrest Twitter users responsible for racist hate speech. According to Vocativ, among many recently arrested was a Scottish citizen who had posted hate speech about Syrian refugees on his Facebook page.

I mean, imagine if the police started systematically arresting BLM activists for saying nasty things online.

And more recently, the Cheshire police took a moment from its busy terror investigation to warn people that hurting the wrong people’s feelings is illegal:

“We would remind all social media users to think carefully about what they are saying before posting messages online,” the force warns.

“Although you may believe your message is acceptable, other people may take offence, and you could face a large fine or up to two years in prison if your message is deemed to have broken the law.”

From The Netherlands (courtesy of the New York Times):

A Dutch court on Thursday convicted 20 people of sexist and racist online hate speech directed against a black politician and media personality, in a case that many here saw as an indictment of the ostensible culture of tolerance in the Netherlands.

Twenty-two people were charged with harassing the politician, Sylvana Simons, though she said in a complaint that she had received abusive comments from 40,000 internet users. One defendant, who received 80 hours of community service, the day’s harshest sentence, was accused of digitally adding Ms. Simons’s face to a video of Ku Klux Klan members lynching people. . .

The court said it had focused on prosecuting those who had made the worst comments and whose identities could be ascertained.

“Freedom of opinion is great, especially if it fits into a social debate,” the court said in a statement. “But when this opinion is an insult, threat, riot or discrimination, there is a criminal offense.”

The court added that it hoped the sentences would have a “deterring effect.”

Ms. Simons, 46, was born in Suriname and raised in the Netherlands, where she gained prominence as a television and radio presenter. In testimony, she said she had become a target online after announcing her candidacy for the pro-immigrant party Denk.

I’m sure they do hope for a “deterring effect,” but that’s kind of the problem.

In Sweden:

Authorities in Sweden are prosecuting a 70-year-old woman for a hate crime . . .

As refugees poured into the country in 2015, the woman charged with a hate crime wrote a Facebook post that said migrants “set fire to cars, and urinate and defecate on the streets,” according to FriaTider, an online magazine.

Again, these are anecdotes relayed by highly motivated narrators (although, in the case of the Times, their motivations run the other way), so I’m not prepared to ring any alarm bells. But, I haven’t seen anyone actually contesting these accounts — and it’s not like there aren’t already enormous social and cultural costs to wrong-think (putting aside legal ones).

But isn’t hate speech bad? Do we really need to defend racists?

That’s kind of besides the point. Once we start putting certain speech off limits, the self-serving temptation to expand the category of off-limit speech is way too tempting for any healthy free society. It’s cheeky for sure, but this chart illustrates the point nicely:

“Hate speech” turns the kulturekampf into a one-way street. We can diminish the relative stature of your tribe (and elevate ours), but if you flip the script, we’re going to send you to jail. The other tribe isn’t going to put up with that for long.

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