Time to Fight the Epidemic of Online Hate

June 11, 2013 6:28 am 0 comments

A Palestinian mother encourages her child to kill Jews.

Several women’s advocates recently put the spotlight on misogynistic postings to Facebook promoting and celebrating violent attacks on women. As a result of their pressure on advertisers and others, Facebook eventually responded — admitting it could do better in policing online hate and outlining a series of steps that it planned to take to address hate speech.

That episode reflected a slice of a problem we have worked on for years — an epidemic of online hate that is harming individuals and society. Today, the virus of Internet hate is metastasizing every day in ways that Hitler and his propagandists never could have imagined.

This scourge of online bigotry and its consequences are the subject of our new book, “Viral Hate,” which proffers an overview of the problem and looks to Internet providers, governments and society at large for creative new solutions.

Our book does not make the case for stifling free speech, nor is it an attempt to cast aspersions on the Internet itself for the problem. In fact, we celebrate and defend this wonderful tool for information-sharing, research and social networking, and conclude that one solution to the problem of online hate may be more speech, not less.

Some simply shrug off online hate as the inevitable effluent of Internet freedom and rationalize it as a problem too big to address. After all, every second on the Internet, there are more than 700 posts to Facebook, and 600 Twitter tweets. Every 72 hours of video are posted to YouTube.

Much of this content is harmless, and yet a disturbing amount of online content is anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and misogynistic. It can overwhelm sites in seconds. Recently, YouTube was flooded with racist comments after an otherwise harmless cereal advertisement featuring a bi-racial child, her white mom and black dad went viral. The video site was forced to shut down the comments section until they had found way to stop the flood of racist invective from poisoning the discussion.

Hate has indeed gone viral.

Online hate traumatizes its targets. It also serves to rally and attract others who might share its bigoted message.

Hateful ideas have led some people to take action offline, in the real world. There have been widely reported attacks minorities and suicides that started with Internet hate speech or online bullying.

What is more, while the Internet is a terrific tool for gathering research, there are many instances where young children have turned to the Internet for a homework assignment and found themselves confronted with false “historical information,” such as racist sites purporting to tell the “true story” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Holocaust denial sites masquerading as purveyors of truth.

Also disturbing is that many people react to the common appearance of online hate by treating it as the norm, and ignoring it.

The problem of scale — the sheer volume of Internet content — is no excuse for not trying to deal with online hate. When viruses causing disease spread, society responds even when the scale of the problem is daunting. Likewise, the virus of hate requires a broad response.

Internet hosts like Facebook and Google have joined with the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism and the Anti-Defamation League in a working group that includes civil rights experts for an ongoing collaboration on ways to reduce hate speech. Terms of Service and their enforcement, tools for counter-speech as an antidote for hate speech, and education are the current focus.

All the while, the right to free expression always is in mind. And yet, more is greatly needed from the Internet community, especially the companies that knowingly or unknowingly play host to hateful content.

For starters, the companies need to learn why some content it is hosting — like Holocaust denial — is indeed hate speech, as are jokes using anti-gay epithets. And they need to put adequate resources in place to respond to complaints about the presence of hate-filled posts, and to take down those posts promptly.

And more is needed from parents and educators. Teaching kids about cyber-literacy and online civility is a start, and we do a woefully bad job of that in this country.

And as demonstrated by the women pushing Facebook to change, people who use the Internet need to speak up when they see online hate. “When you see something, say something” should not be restricted to unattended parcels. We each have a duty to speak out against online hate.

Edmund Burke’s pre-Internet warning still applies: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Christopher Wolf, an attorney who specializes in Internet privacy law, is the League’s Civil Rights Chair. They are the co-authors of “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet (Palgrave Macmillan, June 2013). This article was originally published by Fox News.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.