Chattanooga officials are clamping down on hate speech through a program called Hatebase, but they will not specify what is and is not hate speech.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press defines Hatebase as “an early warning system that helps identify situations of concern” to stop mass violence before it begins.
But how do city officials define hate speech?
The Tennessee Star posed that question to the office of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in an email Friday.
City spokesman Kerry Hayes responded with this:
“City staff do not define hate speech, as that is not the purpose of the Mayor’s Council Against Hate or the Hatebase tool,” Hayes said.
Hayes also said no city funds or taxpayer dollars pay for the city’s use of Hatebase.
But what happens to people government officials deem are guilty of hate speech?
“We believe that anyone who commits a hate crime should be appropriately charged and adjudicated,” Hayes said without specifying what, precisely, happens to people who commit hate speech — not hate crimes.
As The Times Free Press reported, the city has a Council Against Hate website where “residents can submit sightings or incidents of hate speech they experience or witness. The city pulls this data nightly from Hatebase and adds it to a dataset used to monitor hate speech in the community.”
“The City of Chattanooga is one of the first local governments that Hatebase has partnered with in the U.S.,” the paper reported.
“Hatebase originated from the Sentinel Project, an international nonprofit based out of Toronto that works to prevent genocide and mass atrocities through engagement and cooperation with victimized populations across the globe.”
According to DigitalJournal.com, “Hatebase has gathered a growing list of over 3,600 terms considered to be hate speech.”
Tennessee has at least one other similar program.
As The Star reported last month, Williamson County School System officials can, if they choose, monitor students’ online activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and punish students if they say something unsuitable.
School administrators are the ones who decide what is and isn’t unsuitable. As of this year, school system officials do this through a program called Gaggle.
School system officials set up the program to help with student safety issues. WCS spokesman Cory Mason said Gaggle monitors student accounts “for inappropriate or concerning words and images that have been placed on the WCS server.”
“Some of the things it looks for include references to drug and alcohol use, self-harm, threats, etc.; the same student behaviors school administrators have addressed for years,” Mason said in an email.
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