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What The Trib Gets Wrong About Online Hate Speech

By Margaret Lyons in News on Nov 13, 2007 8:47PM

2007_11_13.flag.jpgOh, look, it's time for another sensationalist story about the internet. Let's see... sexual predators on the web? Nah, that's too played out. We know: Hate speech! Let's get to it.

Trib says: "It might come as a surprise to the soldiers who defeated fascism in World War II, but the United States has become a refuge for Nazism and other brands of extremism over the last decade. On the Internet, that is."
We say: Well, not if they'd ever, you know, seen the internet. Just like "If you can imagine it, there's porn of it," if you can identify as it, there's probably a hate group about it. And the United States has been home to extremism since long before the internet.

Trib says: "Hundreds of foreign-language Web sites -- some tied to the Chicago area -- are using U.S. servers to dodge [foreign laws]. Run by hosts in the United States, they thrive out of reach of prosecutors in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.... One Chicago server company is home to as many as 17 hate sites, eight of them European. ... [One major hate site] boasts more than 111,000 members."
We say: Hundreds of sites, possibly 17 here in Chicago. Out of billions and billions and billions. And nothing in the article suggests that these sites are "thriving"--the story says they exist, but doesn't cite a study or a traffic report that would indicate, even roughly, that this number is increasing in a meaningful way. And 111,000 international members--is that active or not?--is the same number of members as this body-building social networking site has, or the same number of people that are in the Swedish Association of Health Officers.

Trib says: "Little study has been done on the extent to which the Web inspires real-world crime."
We say:...but that's not going to stop you from recounting one tragic incident from 1999 in which a Willmette man shot 11 people, killing two of them and then himself, after reading a hate site. We're not arguing that racism, sexism, homophobia and [your hatred here] don't lead to violence, or that hate crimes aren't a serious issue—of course they are. Hell, there were 191 reported hate crimes in Illinois alone last year. But the connection this article attempts to make between reading hate sites and committing crimes is extremely tenuous at best, and bogus fear-mongering at worst.

American flag photo by Alforque