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Free Speech in the Digital Age$
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Susan J. Brison and Katharine Gelber

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190883591

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190883591.001.0001

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The Meaning of Silence in Cyberspace

The Meaning of Silence in Cyberspace

The Authority Problem and Online Hate Speech

Chapter:
(p.207) 12 The Meaning of Silence in Cyberspace
Source:
Free Speech in the Digital Age
Author(s):

Alexander Brown

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190883591.003.0013

It has been argued in the literature on hate speech and subordination theory that even ordinary hate speakers who are not “figures of authority” in the conventional sense can possess the power or authority to subordinate (rank as inferior, deny rights and powers, or legitimate discrimination against) the targets of their hate speech in virtue of the fact that when witnesses to the hate speech remain silent they “license” or grant authority to the hate speaker. A typical example is when a hate speaker targets a victim on public transport and other passengers remain silent. The aim of this chapter is to examine the extent to which this account of licensing is applicable to online hate speech or cyberhate. More generally, the chapter explores whether the potentially distinctive nature of online communication changes the meaning of silence such that it becomes difficult to interpret silence in cyberspace as acquiescence, licensing, or complicity.

Keywords:   the authority problem, consent, cyberhate, complicity, internet communication, meaning of silence, subordination theory

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