Should racist speech be prevented? Many millennials say yes

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Fine Line When It Comes to Free Speech

Young Americans are less tolerant of public shows of insensitivity to minorities, and think the government should be able to intervene to prevent such speech—a notable shift from older generations.

A Pew Research analysis this week found that 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds, say "the government should be able to prevent" offensive speech—particularly censorship of offensive statements about minorities. As such, a generation that has helped popularize the term "trigger words" and push the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the level of presidential campaign conversation is now voicing an unprecedented degree of trust in the government to police speech.

"The debate over what kind of speech should be tolerated in public has become a major story around the globe in recent weeks—from racial issues on many U.S. college campuses to questions about speech laws in Europe in the wake of concerns about refugees from the Middle East and the terrorist attack on Paris," Pew senior researcher Jacob Poushter notes.

A much smaller proportion of older generations agrees with the sentiment that government should censor unsavory speech: 27 percent of Gen X-ers (ages 35 to 50), 24 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 51-69), and a mere 12 percent of those aged 70 to 89.

Notably, the reaction of American millennials is actually more in line with what Europeans believe—nearly half of those polled from the European Union said the government should be able to prevent people from saying things offensive to minorities.

The number includes responses from Germans, 70 percent of whom believe in some such censorship, the highest proportion to answer that way in Europe. That may be understandable since the country implemented clear laws against hate speech in the wake of World War II.

In the U.S., the less educated tended to side with censorship in Pew's poll, with 31 percent of Americans of all ages who had high school diplomas or less in support of censorship of racism. Twenty-two percent of Americans with college diplomas agreed such speech should be prevented.

Find out more of the nuances of free speech and the first amendment:

What Does The First Amendment Really Protect?


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