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Are Racist Internet Trolls Simply Expressing Their Freedom of Speech?

Inevitably, any post remotely related to race, sexual orientation, religion or even rhesus monkeys, turns into a launching board for someone’s racist and mean-spirited rant.

Yet, would these armchair haters be so bold if they actually had to say such terrible things face-to-face?

Take, for example, this recent, punctuation-less and spelling-challenged pearl of wisdom spouted by an Issue Hawk reader dubbed ‘monkeyboy’:

“[T]hese little sht kids call each other n1gger all the time you n1ggers ruined this country and you know it city schools are a toilet only thing you apes can do which isnt impotant (sic) at all is catch a ball big fcking deal.” (sic)

Would ‘monkeyboy’ be so willing to stand up at his job or in front of his place of worship and say the say the same thing?

Chances are, the answer is no.

Turns out that there is an entire psychological phenomena dedicated to trolls who think they can say exactly how they feel under the cloak of invisibility that is the internet.

The Online Disinhibition Effect refers to people who know better than to be jerks in-person but feel free to be racist, sexist  trolls while pounding the keyboard.

Unfortunately, the availability of the internet practically everywhere has created a lot of these disinhibited folk which means that wading through comment sections often leaves readers hip-deep in bigoted and biased spewings.

It also exposes most of us to a lot more hate than we would normally see out in the open in the ‘real world.’

While the jury still seems to be out whether or not these racist free-for-alls somehow impact the psyche of Americans who read this stuff day after day, it is a big enough problem that YouTube has changed its policies and some sites are considering turning off the comment sections entirely until they can figure out how to make commenters less mean.

The internet-hooded trolls, however, have countered that censoring their racist rants are a violation of their First Amendment rights to tell the ‘truth’ and have vowed to continue turning article after article into a vehicle of their hate-talk.

Calling the desire to curtail racism ‘a lame excuse’, one hate page explained why they have a right to keep posting:

“The real reason they are doing this is because these sections have been used as vehicles to spread truth and have served to discredit the biased mainstream press,” the Daily Slave demands, declaring it their right to be jerks.  “By their actions they are now admitting that they can no longer control the narrative through their one-dimensional propaganda.”

Poet and writer Olivia Cole, however, insists that hate is hate and the internet trolls must be stopped.

“When we say racist behavior on the Internet is “just the Internet” — “that’s the way it is” — we are not only justifying that behavior, but we are erasing the experiences of those who are on the receiving end of it,” she said. “Why should racism be treated with any less seriousness because it’s in the form of a 140-character micro-aggression as opposed to an epithet hurled from a car window?”

Legally, it seems both claims has some merit.

Yet, as much as the haters have a right to free speech, those targeted have a right to be free from dangerous hate, leaving the issue of hate on the internet a thorny issue that – much like the open-carry activists – challenges just how far Constitutional rights should go and where the line should be drawn to make the internet safe for all involved.

Photo Credit: Dana

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.