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The Hate Debate

September 22, 1997|LISA CHERRY

Human rights advocates from around the world gathered in Toronto earlier this month to discuss hate speech on the Internet, and although they all agreed it's a large problem, no one agrees on what to do about it.

More than 200 white-power sites, such as the National Alliance (which calls for racial Armageddon) and Stormfront, promote hatred and try to attract youth. But should there be censorship? Education? Both?

In an anti-censorship speech that elicited gasps from some, American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen, whose parents survived the Holocaust's Buchenwaldt death camp, described how censoring hate speech would do more harm than good.

"It gets government off the hook. They feel they don't have to do anything else about minority concerns, as if the law is enough, so it ends up being used against the minority groups themselves," she said.

Joining her camp, in a surprise to many, was Webmaster Ken McVay. McVay's Nizkor Project is the Web's biggest site countering Holocaust deniers' claims. He implored the delegates to not prosecute Webmasters of online hate propaganda.

"I'd rather have them out in the open where we can see them and smell them and know their ideology," he said.

But others favor legislation, asserting that the small percentage of hate sites, compared with the millions of non-hate sites, is irrelevant to their impact. "All you need is a critical mass; you don't need the whole population," says Karen Mock, Canadian director for B'nai Brith League of Human Rights.

Although hate speech is illegal in Canada and Australia, and pro-Nazi expression is illegal in Germany, only Germany has specifically censored hate sites housed on computers in its country. A European Union law banning all Nazi propaganda on the Net would please Sigurd Werner, criminal director of Germany's Baden-Wurttemberg State Police.

"The Internet must be regulated by law, because police can only work when we have a clear law," he explained. As an example, he cited how 1,000 neo-Nazis rallied last year in Baden to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Rudolph Hess, Hitler's deputy, whereas only 200 marched this year, when prosecution was threatened.

Delegates offered several ways to counter sites such as that of Resistance Records, which features racist music for youth to download or buy using Visa or MasterCard.

Suggestions included creating numerous anti-hate Web sites, hyperlinking them; highlighting victim-impact statements on sites; training schoolteachers how to identify hate sites; and introducing anti-hate curriculum into schools.

And some say Internet companies must take matters into their own hands. Samuel Macy, director of America's "HateWatch," a major Web monitor of hate activity on the Net, was one of many accusers. "Servers such as Angelfire must take the lead of Geocities and Tripod, which remove any hate sites found on them. They should act as responsible members of the community."

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