'Newspaper Comment Sections Become Cordoned-Off Hate Crime Scenes'


So says Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, a media scholar in the Mexican American Studies (MAS) department at the University of Arizona:

Given the Justice Department definition of a hate crime, one can argue that, in a strict sense, letters do not rise to the level of hate crimes because they don't specify a time or place. But the letters sections of Arizona's mainstream newspapers often contain threats of violence against Mexicans/immigrants, undeniably contributing to a climate that normalizes hate and fear.

The letters or comments sections appear to have become sanctuaries to virulent hate and, especially since the advent of the internet, a comfortable home to discourses of extremist hate and calls to violence, primarily of the extreme right-wing variety. Here, hate germinates, and has become normalized as a result of a daily drumbeat of dehumanization.

On one level, I certainly understand where the author is coming from on this. While the public needs and deserves a frank and open exchange on immigration -- especially in a moment of great turmoil -- there's simply no excuse for comments that seek to dehumanize an entire class of human beings. And too much of our so-called conversation about undocumented immigration does exactly that.

But I can't agree with the notion that free speech, no matter how odious, is a "hate crime" that ought to be cordoned off. To me, "cordoning off" sounds too much like censorship, which I will not abide. I've been doing Attytood for nine years, and we've certainly had to delete the occasional comment that is obscene, or racist. or that makes threats against others. But I'm proud that we've never deleted a comment because I disagree with that commenter's opinion -- and we never will.

In his essay, Rodriguez cites comment comments that are appalling, or kind of dumb, or both. These are people who shouldn't be censored...just set straight. The one true powerful weapon against offensive free speech...is your free speech, and mine.