The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

The State of Hate: Exploiting the Internet to Promote Hatred

Extremists have taken advantage of the open forums and venues on the Internet, as well as new technologies, to promote their bigoted ideology. Whereas hate mongers once had to stand on street corners and hand out mimeographed leaflets to passersby, the Internet has allowed extremists to access a potential audience of millions — including impressionable youth. It has also facilitated communication among like-minded bigots across borders and oceans, anonymously and cheaply enhancing their ability to promote and recruit for their cause.

During the period 2005-2008, white supremacists spread their hate messages and recruited new members through the use of social networking on mainstream sites such as MySpace or Facebook and extremist sites such as NewSaxon. Thousands of white supremacists have flocked to these sites, which allow them to link to other individuals much more easily than web-based forums or discussion groups. The two white supremacists arrested in the fall of 2008 for plotting a racist shooting spree and assassination attempt on Barack Obama were reportedly introduced to each other by a mutual friend on a social networking website. Even members of racist prison gangs have flocked to these sites and use them regularly.

In 2008, there has been a marked increase in anti-Semitic material in online discussion groups hosted on such mainstream websites as Yahoo!, Google, and AOL. Although there have been anti-Semitic comments on various online groups for some time, the number of these postings has doubled on Yahoo! Finance message boards as a result of the global economic crisis in the United States and the Bernard Madoff financial scandal. In addition, the recent comments have been more virulently anti-Semitic. These anti-Semitic postings have continued as the financial crisis has deepened. Yahoo!, however, has taken down many of the comments after they have been posted.

Haters are finding new and creative ways to spread their message. Many online newspapers allow readers to post comments after each article. Extremists are taking advantage of these open online venues to post anti-Semitic and racist comments, often completely unrelated to the article to which they are attached. In the wake of the Madoff scandal, the Florida-based Palm Beach Post had to disable its comments section due to the avalanche of anti-Semitic comments.

Anti-Semites and racists have found video-sharing websites, such as YouTube and MySpace Video, an effective means to promote propaganda and hateful material that might not otherwise be seen by the public. Internet users who search video-sharing sites will often find anti-Semitic and racist videos when looking for information completely unrelated to the videos due to misleading tags and titles that extremists attach to the videos when uploading them to the sites.

Extremist groups and individuals are reformatting their websites to make them accessible to as many people as possible on Internet-enabled cell phones through Mobile Web. For example, Stormfront, the largest and most popular white supremacist forum on the Internet, and the Vanguard News Network forum, another popular white supremacist site, are fully accessible and searchable via a cell phone.

Although hate speech is offensive and hurtful, the First Amendment usually protects such expression. Beyond spreading hate, however, there is a growing, disturbing trend to use the Internet to intimidate and harass individuals on the basis of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. When speech contains a direct, credible threat against an identifiable individual, organization, or institution, it crosses the line to criminal conduct. Hate speech containing criminal threats is not protected by the First Amendment.

Criminal cases concerning hate speech on the Internet have, to date, been few in number. The Internet is vast and perpetrators of online hate crimes hide behind anonymous screen names, electronically garbled addresses, and websites that can be relocated and abandoned overnight. Those who send threatening e-mail communications through the Internet may convey these messages anonymously across state lines to victims in another part of the country. Prosecutors face the daunting task of identifying the perpetrator, collecting and preserving evidence, and establishing jurisdiction over the criminal act.

Next Section: Hate Knows No Borders

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