Computer: Hate on the Web attracts attention

Gannett News Service/May 28, 2004
By Greg Wright

The number of Web sites promoting violence and hate, such as those, has increased since 9/11 terrorist attacks. Web sites that spout hate are on the rise, Internet experts contend, partly because the war against terrorism and the Iraq war further irritated existing ethnic and religious tensions.

The number of Web sites around the world that promote hate and violence rose to 10,926 in April, a 26 percent increase from the start of the year, according to SurfControl, a California company that helps companies filter objectionable material from e-mail and Internet services.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Birmingham, Ala., group that fights intolerance, said the number of U.S.-based hate Web sites rose 12 percent to 497 in 2003 compared with the previous year.

And the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said it now monitors 4,000 hate sites around the world, up from one in 1995.

The increase doesn't alarm some human rights groups because relatively few people are likely to frequent the sites. But others warn that a proliferation of hate on the Web makes it more likely impressionable children and teenagers will run across such sites.

More after Sept. 11

Many sites disparage blacks and Jews, said Susan Larson, SurfControl's president of global content. But the company has noticed more anti-Muslim Web sites since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Internet also has created strange bedfellows. Some white supremacist Web sites support Muslim insurgents because they believe Jews engineered the U.S. war on terrorism to get rid of Israel's enemies.

The Web site of National Alliance, a group that wants to preserve white culture, claims that Israel knew in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks and had the technology to launch anthrax attacks.

Some people who promote such sites deny they spread hate.

Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., created an anti-gay Web site about five years ago. The 100-member congregation believes homosexuality violates God's word and wanted to use the Internet to preach their message.

"I get phone calls (of support) from all over the country regularly," said church member Shirley Phelps Roper.

The church uses the site to organize anti-gay rallies around the nation, said Alice Leeds, spokeswoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

"What they do is very, very hurtful," Leeds said.

Increase in users

The increase in hate sites could stem from more people using the Internet, said Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. But the Internet is so transient, many sites aren't active for long.

A noted Islamic organization said it is more worried about hateful anti-Muslim comments on the radio because these seem more likely to incite people to violence.

"We can't be too distracted by it," Rabiah Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said about hate Web sites. "As long as it is not inciting violence - if they are falling within their freedom of speech - we can't ask them to stop."

But the hate sites harm, even if they do not spur more violence against ethnic groups, religious groups or gays, said Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League.

For instance, one Web site dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appears legitimate but disparages King, calling him a communist, womanizer and supporter of violence, Marcus said.

A child doing Internet research on the civil rights leader might visit the site and be misled, Marcus said.

"If you don't know what you are looking at, you could be fooled," he said.

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