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What Is a Joke? Mapping the Path of a Speech Complaint on Social Networks

David Mangan and Lorna E Gillies, eds, The Legal Challenges of Social Media (Elgar Law, Technology and Society, 2017); ISBN: 978 1 78536 450 1

35 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2017  

Emily Laidlaw

University of Calgary, Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 2016

Abstract

When an individual goes online and makes a comment that causes offense it can be framed in a variety of ways. It can be framed as hate speech, defamatory speech, an invasion of privacy, terrorism supporting speech, or bullying, obscene, or offensive speech. The common defence of such posts is that it was just a silly joke. The question for speech regulation is how to treat such purported jokes. Are these jokes simply pushing boundaries; distasteful, but the price we pay for our freedom of expression? The banter and jokes that take place on social media are often spontaneous and imperfectly executed. The problem is that some of these jokes can cause serious harm, particularly to traditionally marginalised groups which tend to be the targets. The response of Western countries is varied, with the United Kingdom, for example, struggling with over-criminalization of such comments, while that is not the case in Canada or the United States of America. Most complaints about content fall to be privately regulated through the hosts. Through the lens of what is a joke, this chapter maps the path of a complaint about speech on social networks, focusing on the ways that the law, industry measures and voluntary policies by the hosts interwork and intersect. This mapping will then be used to highlight the difficulty in drawing a line between offensive speech requiring regulation and jokes.

Keywords: freedom of expression, internet, intermediaries, social media, regulation

Suggested Citation

Laidlaw, Emily, What Is a Joke? Mapping the Path of a Speech Complaint on Social Networks (June 2016). David Mangan and Lorna E Gillies, eds, The Legal Challenges of Social Media (Elgar Law, Technology and Society, 2017); ISBN: 978 1 78536 450 1. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3059977

Emily Laidlaw (Contact Author)

University of Calgary, Faculty of Law ( email )

Murray Fraser Hall
2500 University Dr. N.W.
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4
Canada

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