Unreleased Congressional Report Finds No Evidence Online Speech Increases Hate Crimes

By Neil Campbell | March 5, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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Volunteers help roll up a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the United States Constitution during a demonstration against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall October 20, 2010 in Washington, DC

An unreleased U.S. government report has found there is no evidence that freedom of speech leads to an increase in hate crimes. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) completed a modern-day update to a 1993 report titled “The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes.” While the original report is still available for review on the web, the update, which was created under the Trump Administration and handed off to the previous Congress, has not been publicly released. 

The January 2021 updated report was obtained by Breitbart News and has been published in full. According to Breitbart, “Sources who were close to the drafting and approval process” say that “bureaucrats and establishment politicians with a vested interest in the ‘hate crimes’ panic are trying to suppress it, because its conclusions challenge popular media narratives alleging a rise in internet-inspired hate crimes.”

The “hate crimes” discussed appear to refer to rising rhetoric around so-called “white nationalism” and “domestic extremism” being the cause of the Jan. 6 Capitol building break-in. The rhetoric was used by Democrat House Managers during the second unsuccessful impeachment trial of Donald Trump and has been the pretext for increasingly intense censorship of speech and viewpoints on big tech platforms run by Google, Facebook, and Twitter. 

Breitbart’s source said “Reports like this are typically made public,” and “I don’t know why this report isn’t up on a government website yet. It’s already been submitted to Congress, it’s not a private thing anymore. I suspect the Civil Rights Division might have something to do with it.”

The source, who reportedly worked in the Trump administration, says the Civil Rights Division is the part of the Department of Justice which prosecutes hate crimes. 

In the Introduction of the updated report, NTIA begins by citing the findings of their original 1993 report, which found “no rigorous data linked the problem of hate crimes to use of telecommunications services,” adding, “Rather, while troubling, the links between hate crimes and telecommunications use were found to be in most part anecdotal.”

NTIA confirmed the 18-year-old report’s findings were still a reality, even in a new age of high speed, always connected internet, “We arrive at conclusions similar to those in the 1993 Report. We find no evidence that electronic communications, including the Internet, cause hate crimes.”

The agency also found there was no evidence that those who commit crimes use the Internet more than any other type of criminals or any other type of communication. 

“We caution that efforts to control or monitor online speech, even for the worthy goal of reducing crime, present serious First Amendment concerns and runs counter to our nation’s dedication to free expression,” says the report. 

“To quote President Barack Obama, ‘The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech.’”

Data shows no connection

The report utilized the DOJ’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) database, which was also part of the data set used in the 1993 report. NTIA notes that in 2016 the option for law enforcement to tag hate crime cases as occurring in “cyberspace,” defined as “a virtual or Internet-based network of two or more computers in separate locations which communicate either through wireless or wire connections” was added as an option to data submission. 

Analysts found in 2019, only 36 out of 7314 hate crimes were tagged as occurring in “cyberspace.”

Table showing the number of reported hate crime incidents reported against the number of law enforcement agencies reporting data between 2008 and 2019.
Table showing the number of reported hate crime incidents reported against the number of law enforcement agencies reporting data between 2008 and 2019. (Image: National Telecommunications and Information Administration Report)

The second source of data used was the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. While the UCR sources data from law enforcement, the NCVS sources data from approximately 95,000 households around the country annually, and asks respondents about all incidents they may have experienced, rather than only those reported to authorities. 

Respondents are asked if they believe their experiences are linked to prejudice or bigotry, and if so, details are asked to be provided. The report notes that details that were provided to the NCVS do not evidence any link to telecommunications systems. 

Number of totals reported and not reported hate crimes between 2009 and 2017 according to the Hate Crimes Statistics Briefing for the Virginia Advisory Committee U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Department of Justice, March of 2019
Number of totals reported and not reported hate crimes between 2009 and 2017 according to the Hate Crimes Statistics Briefing for the Virginia Advisory Committee U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Department of Justice, March of 2019 (Image: Bureau of Justice Statistics)

NTIA found “The evidence does not show that during the last decade, a time of expansive growth of electronic communications, particularly on the Internet and mobile devices as well as social media, there has been a rise in hate crime incidents.”

The report also found several studies often cited to support the theory that far-right groups have utilized the Internet to anonymize their activities and organize their crimes, all lacked empirical and causal bases for their claims.

NTIA also found a similar lack of empirical basis for the claims that bots, video games, chat services, and funding platforms had been connected to real cases of hate crimes. 

NTIA suggested the reconsideration of Section 230, which grants “broad immunity” to big tech platforms from liability for what their user’s post, saying “Section 230 shields social media platforms from rules everyone else must follow.

“Reforming Section 230 would greatly combat the problem of soliciting, aiding, and abetting hate crimes online.”

Censorship criticized

The report also levied heavy criticism on the notion that artificial intelligence should be used by big tech platforms to censor and moderate speech under the flag of preventing hate crimes. Most poignantly it noted the connection between this approach and the Chinese Communist regime’s methodology, stating, “Interestingly, much of this technology is being developed from approaches pioneered by the Chinese Communist Party to stifle political discussion and dissent.”

“Given that all the major social media platforms have rules against hate speech and, in fact, employ sophisticated algorithmic artificial intelligence (AI) approaches to enforce these often vague and contradictory rules in a manner also used by tyrannous regimes, it is appropriate to ask what they gain from it.”

NTIA continued, “Certainly, as this Report shows, the platforms have no reasonable expectation that their censorship will end hate crimes or even diminish it, as no empirical evidence exists linking increased hate speech with hate crimes.”

“Further, this censorship poses real dangers to our political system.  Under the hate speech prohibitions and other censorship rules, the platforms have removed content that many consider seriously engaged with pressing political and social issues.”

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