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Difference Between Hate Speech and Free Speech

Both hate and free speech deal with the expression of thoughts and feelings; this makes their differences blurry for some people. In fact, hate speech is not banned under the United States law as doing so may compromise free speech. Also, these expressions get encouraged by digital development due to the protection of anonymity.

Regarding their differences, free speech is widely known as freedom of speech or freedom of expression while hate speech specifically intends to attack an individual or group of people. Some argue that hate speech should be protected like free speech but some prefer to penalize less tolerant statements. The following paragraphs further present other distinctions.


What is Hate Speech?

Hate Speech is any form of expression that intends to attack a person or a group by inciting violence or prejudice on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnicity, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and others. Some perceive it as a part of free speech and is either legal or illegal depending on the governing administration.

Specifically, an expression is considered as hate speech when it includes:

  • Aggressive words

– personal and apt to incite immediate retaliation

  • Incitement to Violence

– words that are calculated to result in an actual attack in the future such as genocides, physical bullying, and other forms of hate crime

  • True Threat

– threatening or intimidating statements intended to be fulfilled in the immediate future

  • Libel or Slander

-both are types of defamation, libel which can take place in any medium, while slander is verbal

  • Hostile Environment

-workplaces which create environments that encourage harassment or abuse


What is Free Speech?

Free speech or Freedom of Speech is a widely used right for people to speak without distress regarding retribution, censorship, and government interference. The law states that this freedom may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions, and penalties in a democratic society. This right includes freedom for the press to present their opinions and liberty of the citizens to express their grievances through petitions or protests. Though free speech is usually used synonymously with “freedom of expression”, the latter refers to both seeking and receiving information in any medium.

Regarding its origins, most experts believe that the ancient Athenian democratic principle of free speech may have been practiced during the 5th to 6th century BC. Also, the Roman Republic (509 BC-27 BC) cited freedom of speech as one of their values. In 1789, freedom of speech was stipulated as an “inalienable right” during the French Revolution. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specified that every individual has the “right to freedom of opinion and expression”. Today, this right is respected in various laws such as American Convention on Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Difference between Hate Speech and Free Speech

Purpose of  Hate vs. Free Speech

Free speech allows people to discuss their beliefs, thoughts, and ideas openly; however, there are limitations to this freedom. On the other hand, hate speech incites harm or violence against others and does not respect pertinent limitations.

Encourages Debate

Free speech encourages debate by liberally but politely presenting the two sides of an issue while hate speech encourages violence by deliberately offending the other party and supporting discriminatory acts.

Effect on Society because of Hate vs. Free Speech

Hate speech creates unnecessary factions within a society due to the aggressive content which may further lead to the community’s deterioration. On the other hand, free speech generally leads to the society’s growth. Though certain divisions may arise, there is still a positive change at the end which fosters healthy social evolution.

Effect on Oneself

Publicly stating homophobic, racist, and other discriminatory remarks under hate speech does not only hurt others but oneself as well. For instance, people who ridicule others also get ridiculed in return and get socially punished. On the contrary, those who engage in free speech are generally not socially punished because they are careful not to cross the line.

Attitude towards Minority

Hate speech discriminates the minority by disseminating offensive remarks while free speech protects the minority by practicing tolerance and respecting the diversity that each group brings. Free speech follows a guideline that prevents the marginalization of individuals. 


Unlike hate speech, free speech is more humane as it aims to respect the dignity of individuals. Hence, this is being encouraged in various social agency settings such as schools and workplaces.

Hate Crime

Unlike free speech, hate speech is more associated with hate crimes as it promotes content regarding abusive acts. For instance, certain mass killings were said to be preceded by hate speech.

Hate vs Free Speech: Comparison Chart


Summary of Hate vs Free Speech

  • Both hate and free speech deal with the expression of thoughts and feelings.
  • There is a thin line between hate and free speech.
  • Hate speech is a form of expression that intends to attack a person or a group.
  • Hate speech includes aggressive words, incitement to violence, true threat, libel or slander, and hostile environment.
  • Free speech or Freedom of Speech is a widely used right for people to speak without distress regarding retribution, censorship, and government interference.
  • The origins of free speech can be traced back to the Athenian democratic principle.
  • Hate speech encourages abuse while free speech encourages debate.
  • Unlike hate speech, free speech respects limitations, is against hate crimes, and is more humane.
  • Hate speech degrades society while free speech improves society.
  • Unlike free speech, hate speech often leads to social punishment.
  • Unlike hate speech, free speech protects minority groups.


gene balinggan

Gene Balinggan is a Registered Psychologist, licensed professional teacher, and a freelance academic and creative writer. She has been teaching social science courses both in the undergrad and graduate levels. Some of the major subjects which she is handling are Theories of Personality, Experimental Psychology, Historical Foundations of Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.She co-authored a manual in General Psychology and a textbook, “Understanding the Self”. She is also currently the Psychology-Behavioral Science Society adviser in their university. Gene has also been a research adviser and panel member in a number of psychology and special education paper presentations. Her certifications include TESOL (Tampa, Florida), Psychiatric Ward Practicum Certification (Baguio General Hospital), Outcome-Based Education, and Marker of Diploma Courses (Community Training Australia). She finished her BS Psychology at Saint Louis University and her MAT Special Education and MA Psychology at the University of the Cordilleras.

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfettinger/7684998288

[1]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/98706376@N00/6329770277

[2]Ash, Timothy Garton. Free Speech. London: Yale University Press, 2016. Print.

[3]Ben-Porath, S. R. Free Speech on Campus. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Print.

[4]Strossen, Nadine. Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship. New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 2018. Print.

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