The Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, have grown dramatically
since the creation of Stormfront, the first extremist hate site,
in 1995, and this growth shows no sign of abating. As increasing numbers
of people come online, more are potentially exposed to the growing mass
of bigotry easily available there, their attitudes and behavior conceivably
influenced by its malignant presence and insidious appeals.
Former Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black, creator of Stormfront,
continually adds to his site and hosts many other haters' Web pages. David
Duke, another former leader of the Knights, and the National Association
for the Advancement of White People, a group that Duke founded, employ
the Web in hiding their white supremacist beliefs behind the slick, misleading
rhetoric of "white rights." Factions of the currently weakened
Ku Klux Klan use the Internet as a means to revitalization, spreading
the Klan's traditional message of hatred for Jews, Blacks and immigrants.
Numerous groups and individuals have created and maintain Web sites promoting
the ideals of Hitler's Nazi party. While some bigots revel in the Nazis'
murder of 6 million Jews, others have denied that this genocide took place,
maligning Jews in their effort to win Adolf Hitler's ideals new life
or, at least, a measure of legitimacy in the political mainstream. Similarly,
Black bigots, including the Nation of Islam, have cloaked virulent anti-Semitism
in the language of historical revisionism, mistakenly claiming that Jews
were primarily responsible for the trade in Black slaves. Even women,
who like Blacks have historically been targets of bigotry, have joined
male white supremacists denouncing Blacks and Jews online.
The young have shown a propensity for utilizing the Internet, and this
applies no less to young bigots. The World Church of the Creator has established
a number of attractive, well-designed Web sites, including some that specifically
target teens and children. University student Alex Curtis has created
a vicious site and mailing list popular among racists and anti-Semites,
whom he wishes to bring together in support of his violent, hateful ideals.
Marrying the Internet to hateful rock music, racist skinheads attempt
to use it to win the hearts and minds of the young.
Anti-Semites and racists have not been alone in spreading hate on the
Internet. Anti-gay Web sites, anti-abortion pages, and the anti-government
presence of the militia and common law court movement have joined them
online, as have bomb-making pages, which promote violent extremism of
Combating online extremism presents enormous technological and legal
difficulties. Even if it were electronically feasible to keep sites off
the Internet, the international nature of this medium makes legal regulation
virtually impossible. Furthermore, in the United States, the First Amendment
guarantees the right of freedom of speech to all Americans, even those
whose opinions are reprehensible. Consequently, governments, corporations
and people of goodwill have looked for alternative ways to address the
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) based in the United States are not
bound by the First Amendment, and they are not legally liable for the
content of the sites they host. Consequently, the decision to host hate
sites is theirs alone. Whatever their motivation, some have elected to
host haters, while others require subscribers to sign contractual terms
of service which prohibit using their facilities to promote hate.
Just as an Internet Service Provider can remove a hate site from its
servers, concerned individuals can remove such sites from their screens.
Filtering software products can help concerned individuals keep their
home computers free of hate. Additionally, Internet users can let responsible
authorities know about the threatening, hateful and violent material they
It is also important that individuals and organizations do more than
speak out against bigotry. ADL hopes that the public will not only reject
extremist propaganda on the Internet, but also choose to use the Internet
to promote tolerance.
As a powerful technological tool that permits instantaneous communication
between disparate populations across the globe, the Internet can promote
cultural tolerance in a larger sense. It can help educate people, promote
positive messages, spread truthful information, and facilitate the exchange
of ideas. Indeed, the Internet has the potential to reinforce respect
for all people's voices, to truly become what some have already called
it: "the great equalizer."