Welcome back to campus for the Winter Quarter, Bruins! As you shuffle into your new classes (or back to work, if you don’t attend UCLA as a student), you will likely experience a strong desire to tweet, text, or otherwise engage in internet activities on your phone while in class (or at work). As you distract yourself from yet another lecture (or day at the office), take solace in the fact that the internet will always be there for you, and perhaps take the chance to learn a bit about the history of freedom of expression on the internet through this week’s Historical Ha’Am article. Brought to you all the way from the March 1996 archives, this is “Hate on the Net” by Rachel Miller:
“The page proclaimed, ‘If you want to learn the truth about our world today and the answers to this world’s problems, read on.’ It sounded pretty interesting, and since I am always interested in saving the world…
Little did I know what I would encounter. Upon clicking on the ‘Go Ahead’ link, I saw the title: ‘Christian Identity OnLine.’ The Christian Identity is a virulent white-supremacist church, espousing views of white power and anti-semitism. The page has sections where viewers can see publications and other forms of propaganda spreading the Identity Church’s hateful message.
The Christian Identity Movement’s page is also found as a link to the home page for a chapter of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The page opens with bright red letters declaring, ‘Look to the Heavens and Rejoice! Wash your Flesh with the Blood of Christ!’ Promise YHWH our Race is Revived!’
The next part has a Jewish star surrounded by the words, ‘Slaves of the Machine, Republican Party, Democratic Party, Pawns of the Pharisees (rabbinic Jews during the life of Jesus).’ The page also states how many people have visited the site (well over 2000) and declares, ‘Oi! The goyim are waking up!’
It was not surprising that organized hate groups such as the KKK have entered the age of technology; however, it was surprising to see individuals using the internet to advocate their hateful views. On America OnLine, a privately owned internet provider, many users proudly proclaimed their racist views. On searching AOL’s Member Directory for the words, ‘white Aryan,’ I found 18 entries. One person’s sign-on name read, ‘NggrHatr.’ Another user wrote that she was ‘working for the preservation of the white race and our European Christian heritage.’ Yet another user wrote, ‘I’m second class because I’m white, my gun makes me first class tonight.’ There were also many message boards in the ‘Clubs and Interests’ section dealing with ‘the Jewish Hoax,’ and other anti-Semitic postings.
With this proliferation of hate on the world wide web and the internet, it was reassuring to note that anti-hate groups also had their sites armed and ready to go. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s site has a cyberwatch section dealing with hate groups. In this section, there is a link to an area called, ‘Perspective.’ The perspective section provides information on hate groups on the internet. Additionally, there is a hotline on which viewers may report hate crimes or hate actions in their area, and an action board, through which viewers can sign up to receive email about appropriate actions they can take against these groups. There is also a survey which viewers may take, gathering opinions on internet censorship of hate material, free speech issues, and what the Wiesenthal Center can do.
Many people express dismay and surprise at the lack of government intervention to the hateful use of the information superhighway. That hate groups, white-supremacists and neo-nazis should be allowed to have free and easy access to such a large audience seems wrong to some users.
Recently, Congress heard these cries for help from the public and instituted the Communications Decency Act of 1995, an act limiting what can and can not be said on the web or internet. Most of the act deals with pornography and the transmittal of such to minors, but there are clauses that could apply to hate groups as well.
The law forbids the transmission of ‘any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication which is obscene, filthy, lewd, lascivious or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.’
Additionally, the bill states that this forbidden information also includes things ‘that, in context, depicts or describes in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary standards.’ This contemporary standards clause could allow the government to scrutinize some hate pages, as they go against contemporary standards, and it is up to interpretation if they are filthy. It is because of how offensive these pages are that Germany and Canada have banned them.
People support internet control because they are concerned that both children and adults will be heavily influenced by the pages and the groups’ messages. They are concerned that the internet gives hate groups too wide of an audience for free, and as a result, the Wiesenthal Center sent out a request asking internet providers not to accept pages from Hate groups. Other groups, however, disagree. Many internet users seemed to feel that laws such as the CDA could affect their own rights to free expression on the internet.
On February 8, 1996, web users were encouraged to turn their sites black in protest of the CDA. This campaign, with its adjoining ‘Blue Ribbon’ campaign, are designed to show opposition to internet censorship laws. Additionally, internet messages have been flying around advocating various protests, and asking users to write to Congress and the White House.
Many users feel that this law, and other recent ones like it, restrict Americans’ free speech. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that COngress is not allowed to make any laws restricting the freedom of expression. It is this Amendment which gives people the right to march in protest or support of something, to hold rallies, and to write articles critical of the government.
The hate groups’ pages explain that, by trying to keep their views off of the internet, Congress is infringing on their rights. They say that, although their views are unpopular, there is a public interest in them (attested to by the fact that over 2000 people have visited the KKK site), and therefore they should be allowed to express their message just like any other group.
Agreeing with this, the American Civil Liberties Union, a group who works for the protection of free speech, wrote in their own web page, ‘Now that the Members of Congress have passed the (bill), get ready to button your lip and shut down your hard drive.’ Clearly, they, like many, believe that when the rights of one group are compromised, the rights of all groups are at risk.”
-Rachel Miller, March 1996