Hate and the Internet
Hate Web Sites and the Issue of Free Speech
Jan. 13, 1998
At its core, the argument is an old one — should an
incitement to hate be protected by the First
Amendment? Whether it should has always been
debatable, but it is. The First Amendment was
designed to protect unpopular speech. Racism, anti –
Semitism, homophobia, revisionist history that calls the
undeniable into question, every one of those positions
has its advocates and every one of those advocates
has the right to express his or her opinion.
But what used to be limited to pamphlets and leaflets
and street corner ranting, what used to be inhibited by
the reluctance of radio and television station owners to
lose advertisers or even their licenses, has received an
unprecedented shot in the arm from the Internet.
Over the next couple of years, it’s projected that the
number of computers with Internet capability will top
200 million worldwide. That does not mean, of course,
that every hate group on the Internet is reaching huge
audiences, but the potential is there and it’s cheap and
anonymous and growing by leaps and bounds. With
each new hate site on the Internet, fresh questions are
being raised about how, if at all, the expansion and
dissemination of such opinions can be controlled.
Here’s ABC’s technology correspondent, Gina Smith.
GINA SMITH, ABC NEWS (VO) Don Black is a
Florida computer consultant who also happens to run a
successful and well—known site on the Internet. He
credits his success to an early start. He launched his
site during the World Wide Web’s infancy three years
ago and he’s since watched that site grow up with the
medium and now he’s reaping the rewards.
DON BLACK From the very beginning, we were
getting over 1,000 hits to the page, visits to the page.
Now that has continued to grow, mostly. Now we’re
getting 1,500 to 1,700 on weekdays and we’ve had as
many as 2,000, 2,500.
GINA SMITH (VO) Like many Web site operators,
Black is using the Internet to promote a specific idea, in
his case a political viewpoint.
DON BLACK The net has provided us with the
opportunity to bring our point of view to hundreds of
thousands of people who would never have otherwise
subscribed to one of our publications or otherwise
been in touch with any of our organizations.
GINA SMITH (VO) Black, a former member of the
Ku Klux Klan, runs Storm Front, a Web site dedicated
to the white nationalist movement he’s been active in
for years. It was the first site of its kind on the Internet
and critics say it is also one of the most extreme sites,
dedicated to racial hatred on the world wide Web.
DON BLACK We have recruited people to our point
of view, many people which we otherwise wouldn’t have
reached. Sites such as Storm Front which are
interactive, provide those people who are attracted to
our ideas with a forum to talk to each other and to form
a virtual community.
GINA SMITH (VO) According to some estimates,
there are now some 800 so—called hate speech sites
on the Internet and they run the gamut from Neo – Nazis
to militia movements, from Holocaust denial advocates
to bomb making recipes, even racially oriented dating
services, many of them linked to one another and all of
them accessible, if you know what you’re looking for,
through just a few keystrokes.
RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER The lunatic fringe
has embraced this technology with a sophistication and
a veracity that is frightening.
GINA SMITH (VO) Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the
associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an
organization that monitors hate groups.
RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER What started as a
trickle has now evolved into an incredible deluge. In the
last year alone, we’ve seen a 300 percent increase in
the number of these pages that have been put up on
the world wide Web. So literally everyone is jumping in
and it’s not just groups here in the United States and
it’s not just traditional racists and bigots. There are
anarchists thrown in. There are individuals whose
orientation or concerns we’re not even sure of.
GINA SMITH (VO) The Wiesenthal Center now
spends 80 percent of its resources tracking so—called
online hate, which Cooper says is far more insidious
and fearsome than the traditional kind.
RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER What we’re really
concerned about at the end of the day is not just the
hurt it’s going to bring to minority groups and to
youngsters, but I think we should be concerned about
tomorrow’s Timothy McVeigh emerging and saying well
this turns me on or I’m really angry about this, too.
GINA SMITH (on camera) What distinguishes
online extremists is their potential reach. Thanks to the
Internet, so—called hate groups can put themselves on
a global stage, with their recruitment efforts no longer
limited to passing out pamphlets or marching down
Main Street. (VO) Rabbi Cooper believes that many of
these sites shouldn’t even be allowed on the Internet,
especially those that he says incite violence.
RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER If the Internet
community decides that this is not an issue they want to
deal with, they can continue to ignore it. I think they
ignore it at their own peril, but worse, they ignore it at
SKY DAYTON (PH) Again, it’s a question of a First
Amendment right to free speech. If they’re doing
something that would be construed as illegal, you know,
that’s why we have laws and law enforcement
agencies. But if they’re not, they’re not.
GINA SMITH (VO) Sky Dayton is the chairman of
Earth Link, one of the nation’s largest Internet service
SKY DAYTON Besides being totally impractical
trying to regulate messages on the Internet or censor
information, basically it destroys the freedoms that the
Internet provides people and it’s totally unnecessary in
addition to being impractical. The great value of the
Internet is that all ideas can be taken on their merits
and evaluated by people relative to their importance
and other ideas. It’s a great open environment where
the best ideas ultimately win.
GINA SMITH (VO) Regardless of their political
leanings and for reasons going well beyond the First
Amendment, many Internet users would deeply resent
any attempt to limit their speech online. Chalk that up to
the culture of the Internet, a communications medium
designed from the beginning to allow for free form
DON BLACK And that’s the beauty of the net, of
course, is that anyone with limited resources can
promote their ideas and provide information to
potentially 50 million people right now.
SKY DAYTON The Internet is a free medium open
to anyone. Just as you can take a pen and paper and
write something down, you can do that on the Internet. It
just so happens that you can communicate to people
through the medium, as well. Well, because of that
freedom, there’s really no reason to have any sort of
GINA SMITH (VO) Exacerbating the debate is the
Internet’s truly global nature. Crossing cities, states and
even national borders, it has no one central point of
control. Jean Pache (ph) works for the United Nations
committee to end racial discrimination, which these
days is focusing on the global problem that so—called
online hate sites pose.
JEAN PACHE They are dangerous. They are
effective in a sinister way. When they hit a situation in
which the circumstances already preexist, when you
have groups that are already traditionally hostile to
each other and all they would need is this much priming
to set them at each other.
DON BLACK If Thomas Jefferson had a Web site
today, he would be censored because in his
autobiography he says that nothing is more certainly
written than that these, the Negro people, are to be
free, nor is it less certain that equally free they cannot
live under the same government. Well, that makes
Thomas Jefferson a separatist and by the definition of
the Wiesenthal Center, then his site would be subject to
GINA SMITH (on camera) White supremacists and
others with racist views once had only limited means of
spreading their views. But with lawmakers and Internet
providers unwilling or unable to stand in their way,
authors of so—called hate speech now have a medium
capable of reaching millions the world over and it’s a
medium that’s here to stay.
Reporting for Nightline, I’m Gina Smith.
TED KOPPEL When we come back, a white
nationalist who uses the Internet to publish his
message and a First Amendment lawyer who says
letting him publish is a price we may have to pay for
free speech. (Commercial Break)
TED KOPPEL Joining us now from our New York
studios, Floyd Abrams. He’s a First Amendment
attorney who has represented the New York Times and
ABC News, among others. Don Black, whom you have
already met in Gina Smith’s piece, is the founder and
publisher of the Storm Front, a white nationalist Web
site that averages 1,500 visitors to that site every day.
He joins us from our Miami bureau.
I’m interested, Mr Black, in what you were talking
about before when you made reference to the virtual
community of people who think as you do. Just expand
on that a little, would you?
DON BLACK (Miami) Well, admittedly, Mr Koppel,
we’re a very small movement. We have limited
resources and limited numbers. So in many instances
we find people who visit Storm Front or similar Web
sites who for the first time have seen what we have to
offer and our point of view and find that they agree with
it but they don’t really know anyone else in their
communities that feels the same way and this I think is,
it’s been important to our movement in that people from
all over the world, not just the United States, but
individuals in countries which suppress information like
ours, such as Germany and even to a degree Canada
and the UK are able not only to access what we regard
as being the truth about racial differences and the truth
about what’s happening to white western civilization,
but they’re also able to, if they are not part of any local
group they are able to join with others with similar
points of view and perhaps create their own local
organizations as time goes on.
TED KOPPEL Mr Abrams, can you think of anything
substantively that you and Mr Black agree upon other
than his right to say it?
FLOYD ABRAMS, FIRST AMENDMENT
ATTORNEY (New York) I’m sure we can’t and Mr
Black’s a very lucky man that he lives in this country. In
just about every other democratic country in the world
he’d be in jail.
TED KOPPEL You must realize that often as this subject is raised in
this country, I still think that there are a great many Americans who do
not understand what the essence of the First Amendment is and the right
that it grants. Now, this is a part of the Constitution to which you’ve
devoted much of your professional life. Just sort of refresh our
memories on this, would you?
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, I think most of all what it
means is that we don’t trust our government, any
government enough to decide what the content of
speech is that we’ll allow or not allow. So we say Mr
Black and his views, awful though I and lots of other
people, most people think they are, Mr Black can go
right ahead and try to persuade people. As I said, in
most countries, in most democratic countries, he’d be
in jail and he wouldn’t be allowed to say these things. I
think they are dangerous things. I think we do pay a
price. But the theory of the First Amendment is that
we’d pay more of a price by shutting him up than by
letting him speak.
TED KOPPEL Actually, Mr Black, you made
reference to the fact that what you say and what you do
would be considered illegal in Germany and yet the
nature of the Internet is such that presumably you—your
site takes a lot of hits or gets a lot of hits from
Germany, doesn’t it?
DON BLACK Yes. The German government has
made some attempts to force German ISPs to block
sites such as ours. They haven’t been successful
because sites are mirrored, that is, duplicate copies
can be placed on other servers which have not been
blocked. So that’s pretty much been a miserable
failure. So yes, the net is international and most people
on the net can access it, although there are attempts to
filter and to block information which, you may consider
my views dangerous, but so were those of the
Founding Fathers, who were considered dangerous. In
fact, their views, as I pointed out in the earlier interview,
weren’t that much different from my own.
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, my …
TED KOPPEL I think, Mr Black, if you’ll forgive me,
most of us won’t have too much trouble distinguishing
between you and Thomas Jefferson. But I was more
interested right now in following up on what it is that the
Internet provides not just to you, but I assume there are
some people out there whose opinions you don’t like
and who are just as free to voice those opinions on the
Internet as you are to voice yours.
DON BLACK Exactly. The truth will win out in this
debate. There is no controlled point of view on the net.
There’s no, unlike the, what I, what we consider a
media monopoly, which your network is part of, all
points of view are accessible, good and bad, and I
think it can be left up to the Internet user to determine
who is right and who is wrong. And we believe—my
views are unfashionable. That doesn’t mean that I’m a
hater. That’s all you’re saying. Fifty, 60, 70 years ago,
what I’m saying was part of the mainstream. So when
you start talking about how dangerous or hateful I am, I
think that’s a little bit self—serving. The national media
in this country promotes a pretty one—sided point of
view on certain issues in our opinion and we’re
promoting, we’re providing an alternative to that.
TED KOPPEL No, I gather that and you’re not going
to get an opportunity to subscribe to that particular
point of view on this particular program on this
particular occasion, but I am interested in hearing what
you have to say about how and why and to what degree
you’re going to be using the Internet.
We’ll be back with more from you and from Floyd
Abrams, in a moment. (Commercial Break)
TED KOPPEL And we’re back once again with
First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and the Storm
Front Web site publisher Don Black.
Mr Abrams, it’s not simply a question of whether Mr
Black or others like him should be allowed to publish on
the Internet. Do you happen to know, it is physically
possible to stop them? I mean there are a lot of people
out there who’d like to put some kind of a filter, let’s
say, between what Mr Black has to say or, for that
matter what a pornographer has to present on the Web
site and their children. Some kind of filtration is
possible. To what degree is that legal?
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, there are products on the
marketplace, and there surely will be more, which try to
give parents a choice, a blocking device, a filtering
device to keep hate speech, to keep pornography from
coming into their homes while still otherwise letting their
kids use the net. I think as a general matter, that’s a
good idea. I think we want to empower parents, in
short, so that if they want, they can keep some stuff out
of their houses and that’s not a violation, in my view, of
anyone’s First Amendment right.
TED KOPPEL But not too surprisingly, there are
also those who would like to use those blocking
devices to keep opinions like Mr Black’s off the Internet
altogether. Where would you draw the line there?
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, I think Mr Black has a right
to have his say and he has a right to be on the net,
period. I think that the place where Mr Black can be
blocked, if we choose to, is at our doorsteps via
blocking devices. But not to keep him off the net,
because again, the idea of the government or any
outside body, in fact, coming in and saying even the
most repugnant, ugly, racist, anti—Semitic views can’t
be expressed is one that in America we don’t adhere
to. We let people have their say. But we don’t make
people listen and we do allow them to find a way to
protect their kids from these views.
TED KOPPEL Go ahead, Mr Black.
DON BLACK I have, the only problem, I have no
problem with filtering software as long as that software
company tells people what it’s censoring and in the
case of much filtering software out there now such as
Surf Watch, which has sold seven million copies not
only to parents but to libraries, to Kinko’s, to
businesses open to the public, they have censored
sites not only such, like Storm Front, but much milder
sites, as well. They’ve censored the David Duke site,
who is a well known political candidate in Louisiana.
He’s been elected to public office. He’s currently the
president of the largest parish Republican committee
and you can’t get to it …
TED KOPPEL Let me help you out here for a
moment, because they’ve also censored, as I
understand it, the National Organization for Women …
DON BLACK Exactly, but …
TED KOPPEL — at different points.
DON BLACK Exactly.
TED KOPPEL So, I mean your point is well taken.
DON BLACK Many groups. NOW has a little more
clout than we do so they probably won’t stay on the
blocked list for long. But this, the problem here is that
Surf Watch, as an example, doesn’t really tell you what
they’re censoring. They throw in Storm Front, for
example, in the same category with sites which
advocate suicide or depict animal mutilation and then
somewhere in the middle of this list of criteria, they say
something about sites which degrade ethnic, other
ethnic groups or something of that type …
TED KOPPEL Let me just make a …
DON BLACK And parents don’t look at that. They
don’t want, most people that buy the software aren’t
buying it to censor political content, regardless of how
unfashionable it might be. But those parents that want
to do that, that’s fine. But they should at least be up
front about what they’re doing. And as far as America
Online is concerned with their agreement with the
Anti—Defamation League, at least they’re telling
people what they’re censoring, they’re telling they’re
going to censor sites the Anti—Defamation League
TED KOPPEL Let me just correct very quickly. I
gather it’s a different organization that has tried to
block out the National Organization for Women, not the
one that you were referring to a moment ago.
DON BLACK There are several, yes, several
TED KOPPEL But there are several out there and
they have the capability of doing it. Do they have the
right to do that, Mr Abrams?
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, sure they have the right to
do it as long as we at home are basically making the
choice by what blocking device we choose. Look, as
long as the government is not doing it …
TED KOPPEL But is it practical I guess is the
question I should have asked, yeah.
FLOYD ABRAMS Oh, is it practical to do it? That’s
a technological issue. I mean we need more, we need
better blocking devices and we need a lot of people
who don’t want them. But we need to allow people to
choose and, you know, look, people will disagree. I
think David Duke belongs along with Mr Black and his
DON BLACK What about other political
candidates? Do you have the right, do you think that
through the back door, this is a deceptive thing, it’s not
something that Surf Watch and other companies are up
front about. They don’t tell you that they’re censoring
political content. They make, in fact, I consider what
they’re doing almost libelous when they throw in some
of our sites with sites which advocate animal cruelty
and mutilation, for example.
FLOYD ABRAMS Well, you know, I think one of the
parts of freedom is that you don’t have the right to
make that choice. You have the right to complain about
it, but not to choose who you are lumped with when
other people do the lumping.
TED KOPPEL And on that note, gentlemen, I’m
afraid we are out of time. It’s clearly a controversial
subject and as the technology grows, so will the
debate. Mr Black, Mr Abrams, thank you both
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Subject: Hate Web Sites and the Issue of Free Speech
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