Words that Kill? An Economic Model of the Influence of Speech on Behavior (with Particular Reference to Hate Speech)
Posted: 11 Oct 2004
This paper analyzes how speech may influence behavior by revealing social attitudes. As our main example, we focus on the possible effect of hate speech on hate crime. In our model, potential offenders care about esteem conferred by like-minded individuals whose numbers are uncertain but can be inferred from the level of hate speech. When individuals trade off expressive utility from voicing their true opinions against formal and informal sanctions imposed on hate speech, the sanctions affect what views are expressed in equilibrium. After specifying a set of conditions under which the speech equilibrium has no effect on behavior, we then relax these assumptions one at a time, taking into account relevant psychological evidence. The assumptions with the strongest empirical support (the fundamental attribution error in inference and the concavity of utility in esteem) imply that raising the costs of engaging in hate speech will tend to deter hate crime.
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