The effects of civil hate speech laws: lessons from Australia



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Gelber, K. and McNamara, L. J. (2015). The effects of civil hate speech laws: lessons from Australia. Law and Society Review, 49 (3), 631-664.

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Law and Society


This article examines the effects of hate speech laws in Australia. Triangulating data from primary and secondary sources, we examine five hypothesized effects: whether the laws provide a remedy to targets of hate speech, encourage more respectful speech, have an educative or symbolic effect, have a chilling effect, or create “martyrs.” We find the laws provide a limited remedy in the complaints mechanisms, provide a framework for direct community advocacy, and that knowledge of the laws exists in public discourse. However, the complaints mechanism imposes a significant enforcement burden on targeted communities, who still regularly experience hate speech. We find a reduction in the expression of prejudice in mediated outlets, but not on the street. We find no evidence of a chilling effect and we find the risk of free speech martyrs to be marginal. We draw out the implications of these findings for other countries.

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