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Features Posted February 17, 1998
Is Hate Young and New on the Web?
By Jean Winegardner, OJR Contributor

Print version
Is hate young and new on the Web? Has a fresh generation of hate-mongers found a home on the Net?
 
A cursory review of the Internet reveals a plethora of resources for hate-mongers. Typing any number of hate-related key words into a search engine will bring up thousands of hits. Type "hate niggers" into the Yahoo! search engine and you will come up with 65,659 hits. Type "white power" or "holocaust lie," and you will come up with many more. It can be terrifying and disturbing to browse through these sites.
 
"This site is best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Download Internet Explorer! And Heil Hitler!"
 
These are the first words that appear when the Teen White Supremacist Movie Critic Web site appears on a computer screen.
 
The 17-year-old responsible for this page reviews one film a day, writing a short review of each and rating it with his system -- four swastikas is a must-see, one swastika means it is terrible. Recently reviewed films include "Triumph of the Will" -- four swastikas: "The film is a stunning piece of work by director Leni Reifenstahl, who is good even though she is a woman. The Fuhrer is no less than brilliant. All you need to do is watch to see the grandeur and majesty of the Third Reich." -- and Malcolm X -- one swastika: "This movie is about a Black Negro who forgets his place and starts trying to make other Black Negroes angry like he is."
 
On the page, the teen includes a biography. "This year, besides my pages on the net, I have learned bomb-making and I have become interested in starting my own militia. My studies are mostly White history, which I learn about by reading pamphlets and watching television." He also offers a tongue-in-cheek tip on how to write to him: "Get some friends and some guns and storm your local post office. You'll be surprised at how much inside help you'll get."
 
This is one example of hate speech on the Internet. There is much, much more out there. And it's easy to find.
 
There is another issue at play, however. Just as the Anti-Defamation League has the First Amendment right to publish a Web site, so does the Ku Klux Klan. In this new medium that has the power to reach so much of the world so quickly, groups that never had access to the masses now do. But where does censorship begin? Does it start with a law forbidding this speech on the Internet or with a home-installed software filter that keeps hate sites off your personal computer?
 
Or does it start with Internet service providers pulling hate sites off their servers? Some ISPs integrate an anti-hate speech clause into their contracts and pull sites that fall into that category. America Online is one such ISP. The Anti-Defamation League does not feel that this is censorship. Sue Stengel, western states counsel for that organization, says simply that if an ISP has an anti-speech section in their contract, then they should abide by it. Stengel says that although the ADL does not think these sites are good things, her organization also does not believe in censorship. "We believe in fighting bad speech with good speech," said Stengel. The ADL monitors hate speech on the Internet, then tries to inform the public about sites featuring hate speech through their own site and by publishing documents and conducting seminars. They are also working with the Learning Co. to publish a Net filter that would direct users to ADL's site if they try to access a hate site.
 
Don Black, 44, a white nationalist since the age of 15, runs a site many would put in the hate speech category. He the founder of Stormfront, a white nationalist Web site. Stormfront has been on the Internet for nearly three years and gets more than 1,500 hits each weekday. Don Black reports that on some days they have gotten as many as 2,500.
 
He says he started the Web site to provide an alternative news media and to serve as a means for those attracted to the white nationalist movement to stay in touch and form a virtual community.
 
Part of the danger of sites such as Stormfront, according to Stengel, is that they can recruit through the Internet. Black seems to agree. "Most of those visiting our site have never been in touch with any white nationalist organizations or publications."
 
Black called groups like the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center the "Internet Thought Police" and went on to say that they want the news media to remain "a controlled monopoly, where ideas they find 'offensive' are suppressed." He says he understands their agenda, but says it is not in the best interest of the American people.
 
Kim Alleyn Badynski, Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan and regional organizer for five states in the Pacific Northwest, is a researcher for a Ku Klux Klan Web site, a site he says is intended to encourage Klan members and other "white Christian patriots" to migrate to the Pacific Northwest to establish a regional power base.
 
The Klan has been online since late 1996. KKK.com is new, having only been on the Net since December, 1997. He calls the anti-hate sites dangerous to the Constitution and the American tradition of freedom.
 
Recent history has shown us that attempts to control Internet content angers users. The medium is perhaps the most democratic to appear in the 20th Century and users seem to resent any effort by lawmakers -- or service providers -- to control it.
 
There is the concern that the censoring of hate speech on the Internet is the proverbial foot in the door that could lead to more censorship, based on political or moral reasoning.
 
Don Black says that there are lots of sites on the Internet that he would consider dangerous. "But I don't think prior restraint of otherwise legal sites promoting moral degeneracy or national suicide is practical."
 
Badynski agrees when he says: "In the United States we have a Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion. We should have the same freedom on the Internet. If someone does not like what we have to say, they do not have to look."
 
This conflict between hate speech and the First Amendment is likely to continue. Groups promoting white power have been struggling to affirm their rights under the Constitution for years. What seems clear is that these sites will stay on the Internet for a long time. It is up to the computer users to decide what sites to call up with their Internet connection.
 
"[Hate speech on the Internet] is dangerous because of the people it reaches in so short a time," said Stengel. "That is the benefit as well as the cost of the Internet."
 
What do you think? Tell us on the OJR Forums.

 


Jean Winegardner is an OJR contributor.


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