Concerns over the civility of public discourse and the spread of hateful messages have prompted governments into action around the world. Yet, whether and how to restrict speech that is considered offensive or promotes hate toward particular groups remains controversial. Empirically, claims about the expected effectiveness and likely consequences of regulatory intervention are largely untested. We present results from a pre-registered experimental study implemented in the United States and Germany, which tests two unintended consequences of hate speech law on self-censorship of citizens. Our expectations are twofold: First, we hypothesize that restricting the expression of obnoxious ideas merely drives them underground. Second, we expect a chilling effect on public discourse induced by hate speech regulation. The experimental findings run counter to our expectations and provide surprising new insights on the freedom of speech norm and the consequences of restricting hate speech.
Simon Munzert is Assistant Professor of Data Science and Public Policy at the Hertie School and part of the Hertie School Data Science Lab. His research interests include opinion formation in the digital age, public opinion, and the use of online data in social research. He is the principal investigator of an international cooperation project funded by the VolkswagenStiftung entitled "Paying Attention to Attention: Media Exposure and Opinion Formation in an Age of Information Overload", and the recipient of a postdoctoral scholarship awarded by the Daimler and Benz Foundation. He received his Doctoral Degree in Political Science from the University of Konstanz. GitHub | Google Scholar | ORCID
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