What is the decisive point for classifying a certain speech as unacceptable?

  • 4
    This is very dependent on the law of particular countries.
    – James K
    Nov 29, 2020 at 0:26
  • 2
    Please do not ask the same question on multiple sites at once.
    – Kevin
    Nov 29, 2020 at 2:16
  • Thank you for your words @Kevin. As we have different opinions here, I have asked a question on meta to see what is the best practice. Feel free to share your thoughts. Nov 29, 2020 at 7:21

1 Answer 1


Even in democratic countries there are many types of speech which are illegal, not only hate speech. From Wikipedia:

Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, dignity, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury. Justifications for such include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

Of course different countries apply all or some of these exceptions to different degrees. As mentioned above, the general principle which guides these exceptions is the harm principle: if a speech is likely to cause harm to somebody, then it might not be covered by freedom of speech. The interpretations about what kind of harm and which level of harm is the exact limit are up to the lawmakers and courts of law of a country.

  • The harm principle is more often used as a justification for existing exceptions than as a mechanism for creating new ones. For example, the US attempted to create a brand-new exception for depictions of animal cruelty. In the resulting litigation, the Supreme Court specifically and categorically rejected the use of an "ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits" and characterized it as "startling and dangerous" for the government to even make such an argument.
    – Kevin
    Nov 29, 2020 at 1:07
  • @Kevin: which is why this Q is far too broad. Balancing human rights (vs. each other) on the other hand has been a cornerstone of European law decisions. Also it depends on the circumstances, aka there's a "margin of appreciation" echr.coe.int/librarydocs/dg2/hrfiles/… Nov 29, 2020 at 2:27

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .