Hate speech web sites from nations where free expression is not a protected right are often published via I.S.P.s in the United States.
A 2005 South Park parody of hate speech inspired its own facebook page, along with verbal and physical attacks on redheaded school children.
Hate speech is a fact of life. It inflames, it provokes, it sometimes inspires people to kill. Even a parody of hate speech has the power to injure: In the days after the popular animated TV show
Sadly, the Internet, for all its sterling qualities, has become the venue of choice for new generations of racists, homophobes, religious fanatics, rabid nationalists and their ilk. There are many thousands of pages devoted to hate speech on the World Wide Web, and some people have begun to wonder what, if anything, can be done about it.
Enter Rick Eaton, a senior researcher at the
Eaton has a professional-grade understanding of the ways and means of hate speech: He’s testified before Congress, he’s been the advisor on videos about prison radicalization and homegrown terrorism and he’s given seminars and training to the FBI and numerous state law enforcement agencies. He says that while hate speech web sites have become big news, they’re not new.
“We’ve been tracking the Internet long before the World Wide Web,” he says. “We’re talking about the BBSs in the 1980s, the early UseNet groups and so on. Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1994, the first hate site went on line in 1995. Now there are literally thousands and thousands of them, with all the different features of the net there’s no way of even tracking numbers.”
It gets worse:
Considering the levels of vituperation, not to mention the plain-and-fancy lying that goes on at some of these sites, it seems counter-intuitive not to do something. But
“Most responded, ‘We’re common carriers. We’re like the phone company; we don’t know what goes on.’ Our response was, ‘No you’re not like a common carrier. You’re providing advertising, you’re selling space to someone.’ That’s still our position. With the way things have evolved over the last few years, I think there’s an opportunity now to possibly get more providers to start signing on to this type of thing.”
The Center believes freedom of expression does not presuppose anyone’s freedom to force someone else to broadcast their opinions. Eaton says he’s had experience with this very issue in years gone by.
“I ran bookstores in the ‘70s,” he recalls. “People would come in and want The Anarchists’ Cookbook. Nobody said they can’t publish it, I just said ‘I don’t have it.’ They’d say, ‘Can you get it?’ and I’d say, ‘No I can’t.’ A lot of stores won’t carry them. There’s always going to be that one odd store, that one odd server that will happily welcome the haters, but if we can marginalize it, we’ll be making progress.”
“There’s a couple of very famous dissents to decisions,” notes Eaton, “which said ‘the Constitution is not a suicide pact.’”
In the final analysis we, the IT consumers, may have to hold responsible some of our favorite I.S.P.s for some of the worst abuses of our 1st Amendment freedoms.