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
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
hundreds of fellow extremists. Online, extremists reinforce more easily
each other's hateful convictions.
|With encrypted E-mail, extremists
have found a secure forum in which to exchange ideas and plans.
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
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.