In 1995, only one hate website existed on the Net. Now, according to a report by the Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Hate and Terrorism Project, there are over 10,000 websites, social networking groups, portals, blogs, chat rooms, videos and hate games, that promote racial violence, anti-Semitism, homophobia, hate music and terrorism. [Source].
In many parts of the world the internet has become the prime method of communication. This major shift has lead to unprecedented connectivity between groups and people. It is our most powerful tool for sharing information, but it can also allow people with more extreme and hateful viewpoints to meet and exchange rhetoric on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.
Testing the limits of freedom of speech, controversy surrounds whether Google and web 2.0 tools should have more rigorous policies restricting content that promotes hate and violence. It is easier than ever for hate groups to virally recruit others to help fuel stereotypes that celebrate violence and segregation. While these openly racist, oppressive views are generally not tolerated in our society social networking tools have enabled overtly racist individuals, who would have otherwise remained on the periphery of society, to form hate-centered communities and discussion forums online. Hate of culture, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, values and beliefs different than their own.
National Socialist Life, Aryan Guard, FARC, Hamas, Hezbollah, Faloja Forum, Support Taliban- thirty percent of new hate postings are on Facebook alone, which has an estimated 200 million users worldwide. The greatest increase has come overseas particularly from the Middle East and Europe. [Source].
With the spread of racist philosophies, from Holocaust denial sites, which claim that the Holocaust was a hoax arising out of a Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other peoples; Zionist propaganda, Columbine shooting “fans”, to neo-Nazi Internet forums- when does is it come time to call on the Thought Police? Should the Google index mediate and monitor what is said, or does this infringe on people’s basic rights and freedoms?
Online bigotry is a tough challenge. Even when offenders get kicked off a site or websites get shut down, all it takes is a new profile under a different identity.
Facebook recently disabled the ‘I Hate Muslims in Oz’ because it contained an “explicit statement of hate” while openly hateful sites such as Stormfront.org, which promotes “white nationalism”, continue to have leading presence on the web. The site is frequently updated and links to a number of white nationalist and white racist websites.
Led by former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black, Stormfront was the first major hate site on the Internet. 2,000 new members joined the day after Obama was elected President, even temporarily going offline due to the overwhelming amount of activity.
Bigotry seems to be alive and well in our society. The most often targeted groups on the Internet include Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, gays, women and immigrants.[Source]. The less people know about the world around them, the easier it is not to empathize. Raising awareness against hate and violence could be a step forward in changing some people’s minds, but whether all of humanity will ever be ready to universally accept each other’s differences is quite another story.
Though hate sites are no doubt infiltrating the Internet in a serious way, the debate is whether censorship can help stop the spreading of hateful ideologies or if fundamentally, every individual should have a space where they can express their opinions. There are hundreds of thousands of groups and websites that are aiming to improve relationships with other cultures, identities, political views and religions.
For now, there is no one hundred percent effective way for stopping online bigots from creating pages and profiles on public social websites. Though currently the Internet may act as an enabler to spread extremist views, its capability of bringing people together could one day be the ultimate force working to diminish hate groups significantly.