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Partner Organizations

Anti-Defamation League


Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence


The Leadership Conference Education Fund

Funded By

Office of Juvenile Deliquency Prevention U.S. Department of Justice


Safe and Drug Free Schools Program U.S. Department of Education

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

Issue/Question:
Is there any kind of hate speech on the Internet that is not protected by the First Amendment?

Suggested Response:

The U.S. Constitution protects Internet speech that is merely critical, annoying, offensive, or demeaning. However, the First Amendment does not provide a shield for libelous speech or copyright infringement, nor does it protect certain speech that threatens or harasses other people. For example, an e-mail or a posting on a Web site that expresses a clear intention or threat by its author to commit an unlawful act against another specific person is likely to be actionable under criminal law. Persistent or pernicious harassment aimed at a specific individual is not protected if it inflicts or intends to inflict emotional or physical harm. To rise to this level, harassment on the Internet would have to consist of a "course of conduct" rather than a single isolated instance. A difficulty in enforcing laws against harassment is the ease of anonymous communication on the Internet. Using a service that provides almost complete anonymity, a bigot may repeatedly e-mail his or her victim without being readily identified.
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