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Responding to Anti-Semitic Messages in Internet Discussion Groups

ADL is well aware that bulletin boards and chat rooms maintained by major Internet providers have become avenues for airing hateful anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric in the wake of the outbreak of violence in the Middle East. Many offensive postings have included extreme, anti-Semitic or incendiary anti-Israel comments that go well beyond reasonable disagreements of opinion about the conflict.

Because of the ephemeral nature of chat room postings, it can be difficult – if not impossible – to document all occurrences of hateful rhetoric. Yet there is clear evidence it is happening. ADL’s Internet Monitoring Unit has come across chat room messages that were clearly hateful or anti-Semitic in nature.

It is virtually impossible to constantly monitor the thousands of chat rooms and bulletin boards that exist in cyberspace. However, most major Internet providers and Web site operators do encourage users to report violators. These providers are generally quick to respond to complaints about offensive postings on their service. In situations involving hate speech, most service providers act immediately and decisively to remove the offensive material and, in some cases, terminate the account of any individual who violates their policies forbidding hate speech.

ADL remains in contact with a number of major Internet service providers, including AOL, MSN, Yahoo and others with whom we maintain working relationships, to notify them of the extent of the problem and point out specific incidents that warrant action.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you encounter anti-Semitism or similar hate speech in chat rooms, take action and report the incident directly to the Internet provider. Most responsible Internet providers have policies in the form of user agreements or "terms of service" that explicitly forbid hate speech. And most have systems in place for reporting violators, be it a special form dedicated to the purpose, or an e-mail address designated for user complaints.

REMEMBER! In order to act, the Internet service provider must be alerted immediately after the incident occurs. Waiting a day only lessens the likelihood that the offending user will get caught. Keep in mind that it is more rewarding (and more effective in the long run) to report offensive content to Internet providers than it is to attempt to issue a rebuttal or engage in dialogue with an individual who engages in hateful or incendiary rhetoric.

While the anti-Semites and haters of the Internet can reappear with new screen names and identities as quickly as they are jettisoned, repeatedly losing one’s Internet account privileges due to inappropriate or hateful remarks can be discouraging.

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