This collection of essays includes perspectives on and approaches to harmful speech online from a wide range of voices within the Berkman Klein Center community. Recognizing that harmful speech online is an increasingly prevalent issue within society, we intend for the collection to highlight diverse views and strands of thought and to make them available to a wide range of audiences.
We issued an open call to our community for short pieces that respond to issues related to harmful speech online. Through this collection, we sought to highlight ongoing research and thinking within our extended community that would be available to readers in a way that is more accessible than traditional academic research. The 16 short essays compiled in this collection are authored by a global group of friends, colleagues, and collaborators. We hope that this diverse mix of perspectives, viewpoints, and data points provokes thought and debate, and inspires further exploration.
Evidence of the complexity of the issue is that no two writers sought to cover the same topic from a similar point of view; from legal perspectives to research results to paradigm-shifting provocations, a multitude of topics, opinions, and approaches are included. Many pieces draw from research, while others are more opinion-based, indicating that discourse around this topic can be inherently opinionated and passionate as well as scholarly and academic. Some pieces are written in a style evocative of advocacy, whereas others are written with scholarly communities in mind. The range of perspectives and opinions found here—and the lack of consensus on some topics—highlight the dynamic complexity of the issues and how competing values are frequently entangled.
The pieces are organized into three categories: Framing the Problem, International Perspectives, and Approaches, Interventions, and Solutions. The first and last sections include essays that build upon our understanding of their categories, and the section on International Perspectives addresses specific geopolitical contexts and ways in which the regulation of harmful speech may or may not be serving the citizens of a particular country or region.
Essays included in this collection
Framing the Problem
The Right to ‘Offend, Shock or Disturb,’ or the Importance of Protecting Unpleasant Speech by Nani Jansen Reventlow
How Cyber Harassment Laws May Encourage Online Speech by Jonathon Penney
The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions by Amy Johnson
The Problem with Sexting Isn’t What You Think It Is by Rey Junco
Goodbye to Anonymity? A New Era of Online Comment Sections by Casey Tilton
State Power and Extremism in Europe: The Uneasy Relationship Between Governments and Social Media Companies by Kate Coyer
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law: Using Hate Speech Laws to Limit Digital Rights by Nighat Dad and Adnan Chaudhri
Internet Shutdowns: Not the Answer to Hate Speech in Africa by Grace Mutung’u
Approaches, Interventions, and Solutions
Civil Society Puts a Hand on the Wheel: Diverse Responses to Harmful Speech by Susan Benesch
Moderation and Sense of Community in a Youth-Oriented Online Platform: Scratch’s Governance Strategy for Addressing Harmful Speech by Andres Lombana-Bermudez
If We Own It, We Define It: Self-Regulating Harmful Speech Dilemma by Helmi Noman
Difficult Speech in Feminist Communities by Kendra Albert
Comment Moderation by Algorithm: The Management of Online Comments at the German Newspaper "Die Welt" by Anke Sterzing, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, and Holger Melas
Decoding Hate Speech in the Danish Public Online Debate by Lumi Zuleta
Verification as a Remedy for Harmful Speech Online by Simin Kargar
Ensuring Beneficial Outcomes of Platform Governance by Massively Scaling Research and Accountability by J. Nathan Matias