Sir, – Michael McDowell writes that “drawing the line between incitement to hatred and giving offence is central to whether we really live in a liberal democracy” (“Halting Trump tweets may be counter-productive”, Opinion & Analysis, July 1st).
The law relating to incitement to hatred in Ireland clearly needs to be reviewed and possibly completely overhauled (the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act dates from 1989).
That said, it is important that we clearly distinguish between incitement to hatred and “taking offence”, which I would submit is a more appropriate term than “giving offence”, as being offended is an inherently subjective thing. There is no right not to be offended, nor should there be. If there were, there would presumably be a subjective test and as some people have a very low threshold when it comes to being offended, it would make a circus of the law, as well as being inimical to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which are central to life in a liberal democracy.
Discussions on many matters these days are often siloed, resulting in the fracturing and stifling of discourse. Some of this can be explained by confirmation bias married to a prevalence of internet and social media echo chambers, where entrenched opinions tend not to be challenged, only reinforced. When you combine these phenomena with the spectres of creeping authoritarianism and transnational disinformation and misinformation, we have cause for concern. Trying to silence those espousing ideas one might consider offensive runs the risk of driving them underground, where the internet and social media offer a panoply of petri dishes for them to spread.
While consideration should certainly be given to overhauling our incitement to hatred laws to update them for the 21st century, when it comes to many ideas people consider offensive, sunlight is the best disinfectant. – Yours, etc,