Google, Apple, and Facebook have decided to ban Alex Jones from their respective platforms. The gatekeepers of the internet all came to this decision at almost exactly the same time, on the same day, and for the same alleged reason: hate speech.
It is certainly true that Jones has engaged in detestable speech — accusing murdered children of being actors, for instance — but detestable speech is not the same thing as hate speech. Or it wouldn't be the same if "hate speech" had any objective meaning. The fact that it lacks objective meaning is what makes this case so chilling. It is an intentionally and undefined category, and the internet Powers That Be keep it that way on purpose.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut has declared that this is just "the tip of a giant iceberg." He demands that companies "do more than take down one website." The very existence of our democracy "depends" on restricting the "hate and lies" of guys like Jones. The trouble is that Senator Murphy, and most Leftists in power, consider all conservatives to be guys like Jones. Their crusade against hate speech encompasses nearly all speech they find disagreeable.
This is the essential problem with the whole idea of hate speech. When you throw that charge at someone, you are really describing how their speech made you feel. You are inferring hatred. You are accusing the other person of having hateful motivations deep in his heart. But there is no way to prove this claim, and there is no way for the accused to provide evidence to the contrary.
"That is hate speech" is just another way of saying "I cannot sympathize with the view you just expressed." You cannot imagine how a reasonable person could possibly think or say such a thing, so you conclude that it must be the fruit of blind loathing. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you are wrong. The only way to confirm your suspicion is to ask the person why he has that view. If he denies that it's due to hatred, you have no choice but to believe him. He is the only person on Earth who can speak with authority about the workings of his own heart. He is the only one who can say how he feels.
Granted, there are some statements which appear to be rather explicitly hateful. "I hate you," for instance. Or anything of that variety. This morning someone emailed me to express his desire that I die in agony from an aggressive form of cancer. I believe I am justified in assuming that this opinion is probably not motivated by affection. But even there, I don't really know that the person who sent the email hates me. It could be that he is just emotionally immature, angry, and lashing out accordingly. That's why I have no use for "hate speech," even in the most clear cut case. I would rather just call an insult an insult and leave it at that. And, anyway, if the run-of-the-mill insult or abuse counts as "hate speech," then Facebook and YouTube would ban 97% of their users. Yet they are not taking that step. Why?
Because, from the liberal perspective, the "real" and most "dangerous" sort of hate speech is the speech that, in their opinion, "dehumanizes" and "otherizes" victim groups. It is therefore hate speech to oppose gay marriage. It is hate speech to say that transgenderism is a mental disorder. It is hate speech to criticize feminism. It is hate speech to oppose affirmative action. And so on. Many liberals do not understand these arguments, so they call it "hate speech" as a kind of shorthand for "confounding, startling, and ideologically foreign." They assume hatred because they cannot comprehend the logic and they don't care to try.
The fact that this assumption is almost always wrong is beside the point. Whether you assume rightly or wrongly, it is pointless to spend time trying to discern and categorize the personal feelings behind an opinion. If you must label speech, give it a label that can be objectively proved: "False," "misleading," "irrational," "insulting," "stupid." I don't think these kinds of speech should be banned (especially because it would rule out almost everything on the internet), but it does deserve to be intellectually exposed and opposed. It doesn't matter if "hatred" lies at the bottom of this sort of speech, either. What matters, and the only thing we can judge, is the thing that was actually said and the message it was meant to convey.