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Xenophobia and Hate on the Internet March 17, 2011

Posted by cristobalgomez in Uncategorized.
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Intolerant websites and discussions are expanding over the Internet. It’s a fact. A glance at these racist blogs and websites and we can see how neo-Nazi organizations use the Internet to deny the Holocaust, to distribute their propaganda, and to incite hate crimes. The connection between hate speech and hate crimes is evident and we can now observe how an atmosphere of intolerance has condensed on websites, blogs, forums, chats, or in “newsgroups.” An atmosphere that legitimizes violence and crime against immigrants, Jews, homosexuals, Muslims, gypsies, those of African descent, and all human beings who do not fit into the “Aryan” and white supremicist perspective. There are two reasons for the neo-fascist interest in the Internet. If the world population already reaches almost 7 billion people, the number connected to the Internet is around 2 billion. This is a powerful reason. The other is the impunity with which their hatred moves, practically without legal limitations in many countries.

More concretely, neo-Nazi activity on the Internet endlessly seeks to connect with the younger generation and for this reason centers itself on the “social networks” which, along with Youtube, have made the Web 2.0 into a refuge for extremist intolerance, from jihadist terrorism to neo-Nazi violence. We must look at the data; if 78% of Spanish web users are members of some social network, in the case of 15 to 20-year-olds, the number rises to 98%, according to diverse analyses on the subject. We cannot forget that Facebook has 250 million subscribers worldwide. This is a social network with a huge number of groups and pages dedicated to hate, with names like “Kill the black,” with an image of a black man hanging from a rope, “I hate gypsies,” “Against the immigrant invasion,” “Long live Rudolf Hess,” “Kill gays,” “Legalize rape,” “I hate fags, whores, and the police,” and hundreds of pages where they encourage hatred, discrimination, and violence against vulnerable groups.

Denial also takes place on social networks and hate websites. According to the neo-Nazis, the Holocaust did not exist and the extermination camps were a “model of coexistence.” Racial hatred is another main course of the Internet. There are hundreds of sites, forums, and social networks based on xenophobia and, to be more precise, a supposed white supremacy. Barack Obama and his family and the preferred targets of those who do not support a black man in the White House. Jews continue to be a community they want to exterminate and the rest of the races or minorities, people destined to be slaves or perform menial tasks. There are neo-Nazi sites in every western country and in several Asian countries, including Japan and Korea. Russia is beginning to look the biggest producer of neo-Nazis who, in every case, have recovered and adapted to the present the symbology of the Third Reich. Many servers are in the United States, where they find many legal facilities. We can’f forget the soccer ultras at a global level, who also have their space. The main Spanish groups such as Ultras Sur (Real Madrid), Boixos Nois (Barcelona), or Bridagas Blanquiazules (Espanyol) can be found on Facebook, in addition to having their own webpages with messages and proclamations, in many cases threatening. Many materials are also distributed via Internet; hate music has become commercialized, garments of a neo-Nazi fashion are sold, and some websites even sell various types of weapons.

According to the latest annual study of the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation, there are an estimated 10,000 websites promoting hatred at an international level. In Spain, the RAXEN Report by Movement against Intolerance estimates over 200, and even more on social networks, which especially effect the Spanish-speaking world. Thus the Internet is used as a means of spreading and organizing racist and xenophobic groups in all of the autonomous communities. From the Internet, groups have planned over 100 neo-fascist music concerts in the last 5 years, they have encouraged attacks motivated by racist hatred, and they have allowed over 10,000 ultras and neo-Nazis to come together and organize on various networks. This is the seed of intolerance, which does not stop growing in the heat of economic crisis and which uses whoever hopes it will soon change into a social crisis that puts an end to democracy, its values, and human rights.

The fight against CyberHate

Since the beginning, racist, Nazi, supremacist, ultra, and neo-fascist groups and in general those who oppose the democratic advance of human rights, have seen the Internet as an open opportunity for cybernetic activism. As early as 1995, STORMFRONT, the first international portal for neo-Nazism, created an international reference that would continued in Spain by the portal NuevOrden and by thousands of websites across the world, one option complemented by hundreds of thousands of images of hatred, by millions of racist comments, and by other manifestations of the evil polyhedron of intolerance. In addition, this harmful use of the web included its use for attacks against those who are different, for spreading Hitlerian and fascist propaganda, for convoking and organizing neo-Nazi concerts, for recruitment of followers, for the spread of racist music, for the defamation of people and organizations, for the spread of horror texts and propaganda denying the Holocaust, including sale of arms, manufacturing of explosives, and diffusion of manuals for solo terrorists.

While the neo-fascists and racists groups rushed to use the new tool of the Internet, the institutional answer was to delay and find difficulties with objectives. The appeal produced in 2001 during the Durban Conference (South Africa), about the need to intervene in this sphere, would not be effective for years. It would be the Antidefamation League in the United States and INACH in Europe who would be the most active NGOs against what had come to be called cyberhate, a notion applied to any use of electronic communication of information to spread messages or information which is anti-Semitic, racist, intolerant, extremist, or terrorist. These electronic communications include the Internet (webpages, social networks, “web 2.0,” contents created by users, contact pages, blogs, on-line games, instant message, and e-mail), as well as other technologies based on computers and mobiles (such as text messages). Another of the new problems associated with information technology and communication is cyberharassment, which although related, is different from cyberhate and is usually seen in a school context.

The danger that comes from this extension of hatred to the Internet is recognized by the international community and has come to plant itself institutionally to confront the challenge of combating crimes in this sphere. The important declaration signed in Strasburg, Warsaw, and Vienna in March of 2010 by Janez Lenarcic (director of the Office of the OSCE for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)), Morten Kjaerum (director of the Agency of the European Union for Fundamental Rights (FRA)), and Nils Muiznieks (member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)), demonstrated and demanded that governments: (1) investigate and persecute criminal acts of hatred, discrimination, and violence based on racial, ethnic, religious, or any type of prejudice, (2) use to their full ability the available legal instruments, (3) establish and promote educational programs directed at children and youths about the motivating expressions in racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, or any other type of prejudice that they might come across on the Internet, and include among these educational plans training about language and means of communication.

Always report

In May 2010, the preoccupation with the content of hatred on the web, whether it be anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, or Islamophobic, led Efraim Zuroff (director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Israel) and Sergio Widder (director for Latina America) to demand that limitations be put on pages and groups promoting hatred and racism on the Internet, particularly on social networks. They also alerted us to the existence of on-line game that had no special visual or graphic attraction but which has perverse concepts, such as a player who is a suicidal terrorist who gains lives the more he kills people, or another in which the player must shoot Mexicans crossing the US border illegally. The Wiesenthal Center advised a form of fighting them, observing if they violate the terms of service of the site on which they are displayed, and proceeding to report them to the webpage’s service, and initiative that any member of a social network could take. In cases of blatant crime, one can resort to justice, although the difficulty many times is to locate exactly where it originated and who posted the message, and it also depends on the legislation of each country, but what is needed is to “create a conscience, which could broadcast that being in certain groups is not funny or harmless.”

One of the most active European networks for reporting CyberHate is INACH, which groups a number of NGOs on the Internet. However, their respective national legislations dictate the reach of their actions. In many occasions, transnational neo-Nazi forums, videos, or web 2.0 pages are hosted on foreign serves and this imposes the necessity to look for transnational solutions in the fight against hatred, intolerance, and supporting such communities, in addition to being directed at Internet service providers who often wish to eliminate racist and discriminatory content.

In 2006, the member entities of INACH managed to shut down around 1,000 pages. In many countries, whether due to good legislation or to terms of service from providing companies, the success rate is constantly growing, although in many cases such laws or terms do not even apply. INACH helped to put Internet hate on the political agenda of the EU and the OSCE. In various conferences and meetings of experts, they made public the results and proposed effective methods for confronting the problem, in addition to providing pressure toward a harmonization of laws against Internet hate. In April 2007, the ministers of justice of the EU reached and political agreement to adopt a framework decision to fight racism and xenophobia. Shortly, incitement to violence and hatred, such as denial and trivialization of genocide, will be punishable in the entire EU because the member states would have to create national laws along the general lines of this decision.

In Spain, diverse initiatives have emerged in response. An example is the page created on Facebook, with the title “I also report racist, intolerance, and discriminatory pages,” maintained autonomously by various human rights activists fed up with hatred, although not without suffering all sorts of threats. It joins 15,000 people against racism and intolerance. However, it was serious to note the incessant hate crimes and racism on the Internet, which led us to immediately put into action an Office of Internet Reports (denunciamci@gmail.com), attended to by a lawyer from Movement against Intolerance who channels to the Public Prosecutors for Hate Crimes and Discrimination, recently created in Barcelona and Madrid, and to the National Court. He currently channels reports collected from Internet users of incitement to hatred, discrimination, and violence for racist or anti-Semitic motives, or others referring to ideology, religion, family situation, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation or any other discriminatory motive. We are only waiting for the judicial procedures to progress.

Another way to protect against xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination is the equip children and adolescents which technological common sense, from not only a technical perspective but also from a critical capacity about the contents of the Internet. Training them to understand the rhetoric of hate is of maximum importance, if we want to prevent them from being misinformed, indoctrinated, and recruited by racist and neo-Nazi organizations. This is the reason that educational efforts to promote tolerance and indiscrimination are an indispensible weapon in the fight against intolerance on the Internet.

In any case, the fight against hatred is necessary. How much can we do, in the face of globalization on the Internet, in the fact of the on-line xenophobic tsunami? The answer must come through educating and reporting, because we cannot forget to apply this principle: “what is illegal off-line is also illegal on-line,” with resolution and firmness so that its perpetrators may be brought to justice.

Esteban Ibarra

President of Movement against Intolerance

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