Panel 19 | Unravelling the reasoning of soft hate speech

CADAAD2022 | 06-08/07/2022 | Bergamo, Italy

94 | Stavros Assimakopoulos & Dimitris Serafis

Why soft hate speech matters: Argumentativity and the dispersion of hatred towards minorities

While it is acknowledged that it is particularly difficult to provide a universally accepted definition of hate speech (Sellars 2016), it is also increasingly being recognised that the term has now transcended its original legal meaning and is currently used in common parlance to refer to a much wider array of discourses that do not necessarily fall under the legal requirement of incitement to discriminatory hatred (Brown 2017). In view of this, Baider et al. (2017) suggested that a distinction needs to be drawn between hard and soft hate speech, with the former encompassing those familiar speech acts that are legally regulated in several countries and the latter referring to discourses that may at first sight appear unproblematic under the relevant legal provisions, but can still be shown to disseminate disparaging attitudes in relation to minority groups. In this paper, we will further substantiate the claim that soft hate speech indeed matters in the relevant discussion, by presenting how it leads to inferences that help establish a common ground of exclusionary and denigrating attitudes in society. To do so, we will synthesise ideas coming from the domains of argumentation theory and cognitive pragmatics, all the while drawing on examples from a corpus of comments made in response to LGBTIQ-related articles in Greek news portals (Assimakopoulos & Serafis 2020). Relying, on the one hand, on the Argumentum Model of Topics (Rigotti & Greco 2019), which provides a model for breaking down how standpoint-argument couplings are inferred in discourse, we will showcase how, despite not being overtly argumentative, the relevant discourses can be taken to still manifest an inherent argumentativity (Amossy 2019). Turning, on the other, to Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson 1995), and more specifically its specific approach to communication, which underlines the automaticity by which contextual interpretation takes place, we will present a way in which, even though not directly communicated, the denigrated attitudes that are embedded in instances of soft hate speech still manage to creep in an audience’s cognitive environment.


Amossy, R. 2019. The New Rhetoric’s inheritance: Argumentation and discourse analysis. Argumentation 23(3): 313-324.

Assimakopoulos, S. & D. Serafis. 2020. Ρητορική και λόγος μίσους: Oμοφοβικές τάσεις σε σχόλια αναγνωστών στο διαδίκτυο [Hate rhetoric and hate speech: Homophobic tendencies in online news portal comments]. In S. Boukala & A. Stamou (eds.) Κριτική Ανάλυση Λόγου: (Απο)δομώντας την Ελληνική Πραγματικότητα [Critical Discourse Analysis: (De)constructing the Reality in Greece], 589-621. Athens: Nisos.

Sellars, A. F. 2016. Defining Hate Speech. Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2016-20. Boston University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 16-48.

Brown, A.. 2017. What Is Hate Speech? Part 2: Family Resemblances. Law and Philosophy 36 (5): 561–613.

Baider, F. H., S. Assimakopoulos & S. Millar. 2017. Hate Speech in the EU and the C.O.N.T.A.C.T. Project. In S. Assimakopoulos, F. H. Baider & S. Millar (eds.) Online Hate Speech in the European Union: A Discourse-Analytic Perspective, 1–6. Cham: Springer.

Rigotti, E. & S. Greco. 2019. Inference in Argumentation: A Topics-Based Approach to Argument Schemes. Cham: Springer.

Sperber, D. & D. Wilson. 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition (2nd edn). Oxford: Blackwell.

98 | Samuel Bennett

Hate speech, ‘free speech’ and tone policing at Euro 2020

The taking of a knee at British sporting events as form of protest against racism and other forms of discrimination has been met by considerable opprobrium from right-wing politicians, as well as in public sphere discourse, where it has been weaponised as part of the new culture war (Haq 2021). The climax of this came at England’s games during the Euro 2020 football championships (held a year late in 2021 due to the global pandemic). Taking a critical-analytical approach to discourse, in this paper I investigate right-wing politicians and media responses to these pre-match protests and how they were instrumentalised to forward wider socio-political projects. After explaining the socio-political background to the England team’s actions, I then briefly present that the taking of a knee is a form of social movement frame diffusion (Benford & Snow 2000; Author 2017). In the analysis, I first look at the different logical fallacies employed to delegitimise (van Leeuwen 2008; Author 2019) the players’ protests: These include the straw-man fallacy (misrepresenting the protest), and guilt by association (linking the protests to ‘violent’ Black Lives Matter protests), but also ad hominem attacks including, importantly for my paper’s thesis, racist hate speech and tone policing. Secondly, I employ the same methodology to analyse how public discussions legitimised some fans’ reactions to the protests (which included booing in the stadium and racism on social media). My analysis shows how a topos of law (Reisigl & Wodak 2001) that foregrounds ‘free speech’ (a key right-wing populist value) was used to legitimise these negative reactions. In doing so, the discourse participants encouraged and tacitly allowed hard (Council of Europe 2008) and soft hate speech (Baider 2017; Weber 2009) – hard in terms of racism towards the black players, and soft in terms of discursively delegitimising them. Subsequently, this works alongside and contradiction to a) positive messages about the team from the same actors as they progressed through the tournament, and b) subsequent comments criticising racism against England players by opposing fans (e.g., versus Hungary in early September), which allows actors to position themself as not racist, whilst simultaneously permitting hate/free-speech. In concluding, I contend that anti-racist protest is thus regulated not just physically through crackdowns on, e.g. BLM marches, but through (de)legitimisation of certain forms of protest and certain issues.


Author. (2017)

Author. (2019)

Baider, F.H., Assimakopoulos, S. and Millar, S. (2017). Hate Speech in the EU and the C.O.N.T.A.C.T. Project. In S. Assimakopoulos, F.H. Baider & S. Millar (Eds.), Online hate speech in the European Union: A discourse-analytic perspective (pp. 1-6). Cham: Springer.

Benoit Benford, R. and Snow, S. (2000). Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment. Annual Review of Sociology 26: 611–39.

Council of the European Union. (2008). Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. Official Journal of the European Union L 328/55. Available at:

Haq, S. N. (2021) England’s footballers lost the Euro 2020 final. But they might yet win the culture war. CNN. 20 July 2020.

99 | Salomi Boukala

The Greek Left-wing and the ‘Jewish Problem’: Analysing Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism as Forms of Soft Hate Speech

In 2011, during a television interview, the renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis declared himself as an anti-Semite and anti-Zionist and added that American Jews were behind the financial crisis that hit Greece. Theodorakis, who was also a political activist and symbol of resistance against the colonels’ dictatorship (1967-74) expressed via the above statement the Greek Left’s ‘Jewish problem’. Theories of Jewish conspiracy regarding the European debt crisis dominated the rhetoric of the Greek left through the prism of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and the victimization of Greece, and illustrated that antisemitism is not limited to the right wing of the Greek political spectrum. Moreover, in an attempt to defend Palestine, the Greek left usually proceed to a Jew-hatred discourse conflating with anti-Zionism (Antoniou et al, 2019). Drawing upon the discursive strategies of the Discourse Historical Approach (DHA) to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and especially its argumentation strategies (Reisigl and Wodak, 2001) and the Aristotelian concept of topos (Boukala, 2019), this chapter seeks to explore whether and how the Greek left wing criticism against the Israeli government challenges the state of Israel’s right to exist and spreads antisemitic mythopoesis by utilizing ‘soft hate speech’ (Assimakopoulos et al, 2017). In particular, I examine Mikis Theodorakis’ diachronic, anti-Jewish rhetoric, as well as the General Secretary of the Greek Communist Party, Dimitris Koutsoumpas’ statements on the Greek financial crisis that, according to the General Secretary, was an aporia of Soros’s conspiracy and the Jews’ desire to dominate Greece through capital investment. Finally, I analyse Syriza (radical left coalition) government (2015-19) ministers’, Ioannis Dragasakis and Theodosis Pelegrinis, parliamentary speeches and especially their references to Shylock- The Merchant of Venice and the Holocaust respectively. The starting point of this chapter is based on a contradiction- the utilization of discriminatory discourse by a political power that defends human rights and is characterized by progressive perspectives; a point that reveals that antisemitism is well rooted in the Greek society, revives in times of crisis and penetrates the whole political spectrum.


Antoniou, G., Kosmidis, S., Dinas, E., Saltiel, L. (2019). Antisemitism in Greece today. Thessaloniki: Heinrich-Böll Foundation.

Assimakopoulos, S., Baider, F.Millar, S. (2017). Online Hate Speech in the European Union: A Discourse-Analytic Perspective. Cham: Springer.

Boukala, S. (2019). European Identity and the Representation of Islam in the Mainstream Press: Argumentation and Media Discourse. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reisigl, M. & Wodak, R. (2001). Discourse and Discrimination: Rhetorics of Racism. London: Routledge.

100 | Dima Mohammed

Where the hate lies in “soft” hate speech: The argumentative potential in hostile public spheres

In December 2020, the Portuguese Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination (CICDR) fined the rising right wing politician André Ventura €3770 for ethnic discrimination in the form of harassment which “instigated and enhanced hate speech”. The fine was based on a Facebook post from 2017 about the Roma community, a constant subject of attack for the politician. By the time Ventura was fined, the politician once labelled the “courageous racist” had already become notorious for attacking minorities and had been often publicly accused of propagating hate speech. Later in October 2021, Ventura was legally acquitted of the administrative offense by the Judicial Court of Lisbon, which considered that the content expressed in the post falls within the freedom of expression guaranteed by the law. Nevertheless, charges of hate speech continue to be publicly fired at the “courageous racist”, not just by fellow politicians, journalists, and human rights organizations, but also by media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook which have suspended the politician’s account for hate speech violations. In this paper, I explore this and other borderline cases where André Ventura has been charged with hate speech without necessarily being convicted by the Portuguese legal system. I analyse the instances as cases of soft hate speech (Assimakopoulos et. al., 2017) which do not necessarily explicitly state that somebody is to be hated, but which crucially provide the underlying rationale in support of discriminatory hatred. Adopting an argumentative perspective, the analysis focuses on the argumentative potential (Mohammed, 2019) of the discourse analysed. One way of capturing the argumentative potential is to identify premise-conclusion pairs that have become publicly recognizable and based on that the standing standpoints a speaker may be held committed to: in the absence of evidence to the opposite, affirming (x) may be interpreted as also claiming (y), on the basis that x has become publicly associated with the justification of y (ibid). The starting point here is an understanding that public arguments do not start from void, nor do they happen in isolation: every time an argument is made, it builds on already existing (lines of) arguments in which some premise-conclusion pairs become recognisable. The analysis of the argumentative potential is intended to explain what makes Ventura, while not necessarily legally culpable, discursively responsible for inciting hatred, discrimination, and violence against minority groups.


Assimakopoulos, S., Baider, F.H. and Millar, S. (Eds.). (2017). Online hate speech in the European Union: A discourse-analytic perspective. Cham: Springer.

Mohammed, D. (2019). Standing Standpoints and Argumentative Associates: What is at Stake in a Public Political Argument? Argumentation, 33(3), 307–322.

101 | Franco Zappettini

Europhobia as hate speech: media propaganda and Brexit

This paper contributes to understanding the blurred boundaries of hate speech by focusing on ‘soft’ hate speech in the context of Brexit. The discussion builds on the premise that, in many respects, stances for/against Brexit were mediatised in the public sphere as a quest for de/legitimising representations of Britishness vis-à-vis ‘continental’ Europe and that in a considerable section of the press such representations were predicated on Europhobia. I therefore initially refer to discrimination as a strategy of differentiation between us and them resting on irrational propaganda (Rawlinson, 2020). I will aim to demonstrate that a good proportion of discourses in the pre-legitimation and institutionalisation phases of Brexit (Zappettini, 2022) were articulated in the media along an implicit/explicit rationale of ‘national discrimination’. I will discuss how the discriminatory orientation of such discourses was achieved via strategies of victimisation of the UK and, at the same time, of national pride that validated past and future ‘British exceptionalism’. The analysis – which will initially trace historical roots of Europhobic discourse to focus on a more recent corpus of mainstream British newspapers – is carried out via a multimodal analysis of the key rhetorical and argumentative strategies deployed in news coverage and editorials of key Brexit related events and actors (Zappettini et al forthcoming; Serafis et al 2020). Drawing from the analysis, this study will argue that soft hate speech can also be understood as more or less subtle forms of media propaganda about the nation that, in the case of Brexit, were instrumental in the escalation, and normalisation/institutionalisation of certain discriminatory discourses.


Rawlinson, F. (2020) How Press Propaganda Paved the Way to Brexit. Palgrave Macmillan: Cham, Switzerland.

Serafis, D., Greco, S., Pollaroli, C. and Jermini-Martinez Soria, C. (2020). Towards an integrated argumentative approach to multimodal critical discourse analysis: Evidence from the portrayal of refugees and immigrants in Greek newspapers. Critical Discourse Studies 17(5): 545-565

Zappettini F., O’Halloran, K., Pal G and M. Jin (forthcoming) A multimodal big data approach to political branding. In Rossolatos, G (ed) Advances in Brand Semiotics and Discourse Analysis. NY Vernon Press

Zappettini, F. (2022) Brexit: A Critical Discursive Analysis. Palgrave Macmillan: Cham, Switzerland.