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Alleged mock slave auction: Should middle schoolers be charged for hate speech?
April 18, 2024

Brian Levin, founding director of the CSUSB Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, was interviewed for an article about criminal charges being brought against six Massachusetts middle school students for comments described as “hateful, racist online chat” stemming from an online mock slave auction. Some comments were classified as bullying and were also seen as threats to other students.

Evidence of these acts on social media and a “heightened sensitivity around institutional neglect of these cases” have driven more prosecutions, Levin said.

“In some ways, social media, for better or for worse, is a detector of something,” Levin said.

And with hate speech, the ramifications are felt beyond just the victim, he said. People who weren’t direct targets of the particular incident still may experience psycho-social impact, which may motivate prosecutors to send a clear message of zero tolerance.

But Levin warns that when it comes to minors, it can also lead to unnecessary punitive consequences.

“Hate crime penalty enhancements are the least applicable for juvenile, nonviolent first offenders,” Levin said, “but if they are used, they should be narrowly employed to tilt someone towards a restorative justice approach like diversion programs.”

Levin said hate crime charges in minors should be a pathway for a teachable moment, but because there are no uniform systems in place to put kids on this path, judges tend to throw out these types of charges.

CSUSB professor moderates program on academic freedom
San Francisco State University

Codi Lazar (geological sciences), co-founder of the CSU Faculty for Academic Freedom, will serve as moderator for a program, “Academic Freedom and Free Inquiry: New Threats, Old Tactics,” which will take place on Zoom at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 25. The program, presented by the San Francisco State Academic Freedom Committee, will feature Amna Khalid, professor of history at Carlton College, and Luana Maroja, professor of biology at Williams College.

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