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Poisoning the Web: Hatred Online
Internet Bigotry, Extremism and Violence
Table of Contents

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Responding to Extremist
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10 Frequently Asked Questions
The Internet as a Hate Tool

For years, hate groups have created written materials of every kind to spread their propaganda, including books, glossy magazines, newspapers, flyers and even graffiti. As communication technologies advanced, these groups have kept up. First, they used standard broadcast-band and shortwave radio, audiotape, videotape and public-access cable TV. More recently, bigots of all kinds recognized the Internet's power and rushed to use it to rally their supporters, preach to the unconverted, and intimidate those whom they perceive as their enemies.

Even before Stormfront appeared on the Web, extremists had begun exploiting other ways to use the Internet, and these practices continue today. Lively conversations take place on numerous extremist Internet Relay Chat channels, such as #Nazi and #Klan. The USENET, a collection of thousands of public discussion groups (or newsgroups) on which people write, read and respond to messages, attracts hundreds of thousands of participants each day, both active (those who write) and passive (those who simply read or "lurk"). Newsgroups have been compared to community bulletin boards. Haters of all sorts debate, rant, and insult their opponents on newsgroups with titles such as alt.politics.white-power and alt.revisionism.

Electronic mailing lists (or "listservs") flourish as well. Such lists are like private "bulletin boards" available only to subscribers. While some lists keep their subscription information confidential, most are easy to join. Postings to some of these lists are moderated (i.e., monitored by the list operator who applies certain standards of acceptability), but others are entirely unregulated.

In fashioning their lists, extremists and racists create an "electronic community" of like-minded people. Before the Internet, many extremists worked in relative isolation, forced to make a great effort to connect with others who shared their ideology. Today, on the Internet, bigots communicate easily, inexpensively, and sometimes anonymously with
With encrypted E-mail, extremists have found a secure forum in which to exchange ideas and plans.
hundreds of fellow extremists. Online, extremists reinforce more easily each other's hateful convictions.

Extremists also use E-mail, which allows them to communicate with one another directly, their missives ostensibly hidden from public view. In fact, E-mail is not truly private: computer-savvy individuals can intercept and read private messages. Some users, nervous about eavesdroppers, now use cryptographic programs. Cryptography converts written material using a secret code, rendering it unreadable by anyone who does not have the means to decode it. With encrypted E-mail, extremists have found a secure forum in which to exchange ideas and plans.

E-mail can also be used to spread hate propaganda. With a mailing list and a message, hate mailings can easily reach the mailboxes of large numbers of people. Enterprising haters have managed to mass-mail hate materials to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of unsuspecting people without revealing their identity.

Though purveyors of hate make use of all the communication tools the Internet provides, the World Wide Web is their forum of choice. In addition to its multimedia capabilities and popularity with Internet users, the Web allows bigots to control their message. Organized haters complain about civil rights activists who critique their manifestoes in USENET newsgroups and other interactive forums. In contrast, haters can refuse to publish critical messages on their Web sites, just as a TV station can refuse to broadcast another station's opinions over its airwaves.

Furthermore, it is impossible for someone surfing the Web to know if any particular organization, other than one with a national reputation, is credible. Both the reputable and the disreputable are on the Web, and many Web users lack the experience and knowledge to distinguish between them. Increasingly, Web development tools have made it simple for bigots to create sites that visually resemble those of reputable organizations. Consequently, hate groups using the Web can more easily portray themselves as legitimate voices of authority.

Next: Don Black

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2001 Anti-Defamation League