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In the entire European Union, the Czech Republic is one of the most anti-refugee nations, and Czechs are not afraid to make that known. When walking the streets of Prague, it is clear that the city is very homogenous, and anyone who differs in skin color, or even hair color, is stared at. There are stickers all over the subways that are anti-refugee and anti-Islam. Protests against Syrians and Muslims are frequently held in the streets. And the hate speech only gets worse online.

Anti-refugee and anti-Islam campaigns have been prevalent in the Czech Republic for years, but in November the Czech authorities officially charged the leader of the far-right group Bloc against Islam, Martin Konvička, with inciting hatred against Muslims. Over the course of several years, Konvička has written numerous posts online that provoke violence towards Muslims, including the mention of concentration camps, as well as the statement, “When we win elections, dear Muslims, we will grind you into meat and bone meal.” If found guilty of hate speech, he is only facing up to three years in prison or alternative punishments, which may be as simplistic as house arrest. With formerly close ties to the President, Prague Castle has since distanced itself from the Bloc. The case is still ongoing, but many have come forward in support of Konvička, citing his right to free speech in their case.

Since the charge against Konvička and the subsequent freezing of his personal Facebook page, Facebook has also removed the Bloc’s page “We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic,” a prominent group with over 120k likes before removal. The group’s leaders are protesting, arguing that removing the group is censorship. Anti-Islam Facebook pages have grown support through community building, and the stronger a community is the more likely it will fight against Facebook. This is not the first time the page has been removed, with a prior removal last June due to complaints by pro-Islam activists. Konvička said, “Just like 25 years ago, we must fight for our freedom of expression,” attempting to entice support through the mention of the Velvet Revolution.

For all of the negativity on social media, there is still hope. The organization Hate Free works to create hate free zones – safe spaces for racial and sexual minorities – throughout Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic. The campaign has specifically supported LGBTQ youth, Muslim families, and Roma. It has shown that much of the younger generation is more accepting than many thought. This is because the most extreme hatred always manifests itself online, while acceptance largely goes unmentioned.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 2.24.11 PM

Image taken as a screen grab courtesy of YouTube user HateFreeCulture.

Because of social media, it has become extremely easy for opponents of minorities to further attack and condemn those who’s lifestyles they do not agree with. It is also difficult to get through to these people, because they can simply block or unfollow any Facebook page or Twitter account with which they disagree. Researching hate speech in the Czech Republic has further solidified my view of the homogeneity of this region, and it is a fascinating contrast to the overwhelming positivity towards diversity in New York City.  It is important to continue to shine awareness on the hate speech spread by these online campaigns, whether that is through reporting them to the social networking site itself or going to the police. Hate speech is not the same as free speech. The violent implications of online hate speech are just as real as offline.

Featured image taken as a screen grab courtesy of Martin Konvička’s Facebook page.

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One thought on “Hate Speech vs. Free Speech on Social Media

  1. One of the things that surprised me the most about the Czech Republic was the feelings towards Muslims and how overwhelming the hatred towards them is. Like you said, it exists online, in subway stations, and in everyday conversation, which is startling. There is a lot of anti-Islam conversation happening in the US, especially during the campaigns for the upcoming Presidential elections. What is most admirable about the Czech Republic though, is the Hate Free campaign, which is doing work that the US could definitely learn from.

    The best work that the Hate Free campaign is doing begins online and then works its way into everyday life with the labeling of physical places as “hate free zones” and the recent rally against the vandalism of a square in Prague. The campaign is so obviously necessary that I can’t even imagine what the web in this country would look like if it did not exist. Although the hate still exists online, it is comforting to know that there are explicit steps and programs in place to fight against the hate speech, which is far different from free speech, as we have discussed in class.

    Clearly to Czechs, homogeneity means more than looks, but beliefs, practices, and culture. While we have spent nearly four months here, we don’t have all of the facts surrounding the anti-Islam feelings in this country. However, I can’t help but feel terrified knowing that there is nearly an entire nation of people doing all that they can to keep a group of people desperately in need of help and shelter out of the country that welcomed us with open arms.

    It is also worth noting that educating citizens is clearly a mark missed here. This is not to say that Czechs are uneducated. What is missing is the understanding of differing religions, cultural practices, languages, and beliefs. Education does not and cannot fix everything, but it is one of the best ways to address an issue in an unbiased manner.

    I think all of us from the US are well aware that our country is nowhere near perfect, but the US has made significant progress in allowing its citizens to speak freely and stand up for their beliefs and opinions.

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