Racism Flourshing Online

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has released its annual report on “digital1936541974_e6e7ba6c9f terrorism and hate” which finds that racism and antisemitism are flourishing online.  Their report asserts that there has been a 25 percent rise in the past year in the number of “problematic” social networking groups on the Internet (Creative Commons License photo credit: rosefirerising).

In assessing the extent of hate online, the SWC casts a wider net than other monitoring organization (such as the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League) to include sites that promote “racial violence, anti-semitism, homophobia, hate music and terrorism.”  And, the report encompasses a variety of forms of online communicatio such as  Web sites, social networking groups, portals, blogs, chat rooms, videos and games that promote hate.

While it’s hard to measure such phenomena with any precision, there are other indications that racism, and other forms of hatred, are flouring online.   For example, there’s been growing attention on the rise of racist groups on social networking sites such as Facebook, where roups with names such as ‘get all the Paki’s out of England’ with hundreds of members, are common.   People in the U.S. take racism online (and off) much less seriously than people in Europe and other industrialized Western nations for a variety of reasons that I discuss at length in Cyber Racism.  Typical of the European attitudes is indicated by a British MP (Labour) Denis MacShane, who told The Daily Telegraph recently:

“The way you defeat extremism, intolerance, prejudice and racism is to atomise it and make people feel that even if they think racist thoughts they can’t say it openly. But websites like Facebook have unfortunately allowed people to come together in one space and say, ‘there are people out there like me’. That is something that worries me greatly. For all the good social networking sites do, they also allow people to express prejudice that in a civilised society should be kept under lock and key.”

Although I certainly agree that racism online is flourishing, I take issue with the way that this typically gets reported.   For instance, this Reuters story about the SWC report that’s being widely quoted in a variety of other news sources, starts this way:

“Militants and hate groups increasingly use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as propaganda tools to recruit new members….” [emphasis added]

Calling what happens with the growth of hate online “recruiting” is to misunderstand the way the Internet works.   People are not recruited into hate groups online any more than paying customers are recruited by sex workers (aka, prostitutes) on Craigslist.    This sort of discourse (“recruit”) is often used alongside words like “lure,” and this is often used when describing the oddly coupled threat of white supremacists and child pornography online.    When reporters and others talk about using the Internet to “recruit” or “lure” unsuspecting innocents online, they misperceive a fundamental feature of the Internet: the search engine.   People go online and search for information.  The reason online racism (and other forms of hate) are flourishing is because lots of people are searching for that sort of content, and a smaller group of people is creating racist content.

If we really want to do something collectively to address the growth of racism online, then we need to address the underlying appeal of racist content by those who create it and those who seek it out.

Comments

  1. jwbe

    >People in the U.S. take racism online (and off) much less seriously than people in Europe and other industrialized Western nations for a variety of reasons that I discuss at length in Cyber Racism.
    .
    can you please elaborate?

  2. Jessie Author

    Sure, jwbe – happy to elaborate a bit. Lots of countries outside the U.S. – prior to the Internet – had anti-racism laws around speech (many places it’s against the law to encite racial hatred) on the books. So, when the Internet emerged, these laws were extended to apply to online speech. In addition, many democratic nations see freedom from racial harassment in the form of hate speech as a central requirement of a democratic society, to be balanced against freedom of speech.
    |
    In contrast to this, the U.S. had no prior history of anti-racism legislation around speech and so there was nothing in place to extend to the Internet. And, there is a widely held libertarian view in the U.S. that sees “free speech” as an absolutist principle that should never be weighed against any other principle (like freedom from hate speech).
    |
    The difference between the U.S. and the rest of the Western democratic societies on this issue is quite stark, what some scholars have called a “cyberhate divide.”

  3. Chris Diaz

    Bluntly, it is white people protecting whiteness. White people control the media. I’m not saying they all are fire-breathing racists. What I am saying is that there are at least three factors that are involved in regards to the decisions made by white of what goes out in the media: 1) some are indeed covert or subtle racists, 2) it is disconcerting to acknowledge the ugly hate that comes out of people that are like you, and 3) they are not personally harmed by the racism, so could kinda care less.

    This is why you see racist stories downplayed or sugar-coated in the media. Conversely, people like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Charles Murray, etc… get to spew what amounts to polished hate speech.

    Some things never change.

  4. Nquest

    “White people control the media”

    I’ll get to that in a second…

    “people like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Charles Murray, etc… get to spew

    Contrast noted.

    If it wasn’t clear that “White people control the media”, the fact that the non-white counterparts for Dobbs, Beck, Murray, et. al. are nowhere close to have a tenth of the air time or media access they do should tell you something. If their non-white counterparts did, assuming non-white approximate equivalents exist, the White backlash or fall-out would tell you everything else.

  5. Joe

    Great post, Jessie. Are there any base and current numbers to put around that 25 percent increase? how many sites and readers do they estimate now? Clear evidence of the vigorous globalization of the white racist frame…..?

  6. Jessie Author

    Hi Chris, Nquest, Joe ~ thanks for your comments. I think that you’re right Chris, *and* I think it’s more complicated. As Nquest suggests, there are non-white participants in these mainstream media portrayals. And, new media like the Internet and social networking sites raise different sorts of possibilities for going outside the mainstream.
    |
    Joe, with regard to numbers, the estimates of hate sites is notoriously unreliable. The estimates from different monitoring agencies such as SWC, SPLC, and ADL vary widely because they each use different metrics for what constitutes a hate site. SWC includes anti-gay sites, the other two don’t; SPLC focuses only on the United States, the other two are international; SWC and ADL include Islamic terrorists but SPLC doesn’t. So, long way around to say that the SWC estimates upwards of “10,000 problematic sites” on the high end and SPLC counts 800 or so hate sites. ADL’s count is somewhere in the middle of those two.

  7. JG

    White people control the media.

    Correction: White racist Jews control the media. If racist whites controlled the media, we’d hear them being anti-semitic.

  8. Nquest

    JG, what’s the correction? You acknowledged that the Jews are “White.” Plus you failed to address the main point regarding White people like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Charles Murray, etc. (Are they Jewish?) who have all kinds of mainstream access and/or air time that their non-white counterparts obviously do not.

    Whether it’s White racist Jews or racist Whites, I don’t see the difference, non-Jewish Whites still have tons of access that their non-white counterparts never have. So, if anything, White racist Jews and racist Whites must be in cahoots — one with the control, the other with the access and an influence, by the way the media caters to Whites, that amounts to some serious degree of control, IMO.

  9. jwbe

    @Jessie, thanks for your explanation.
    .
    >The difference between the U.S. and the rest of the Western democratic societies on this issue is quite stark, what some scholars have called a “cyberhate divide.”
    .
    The difference is I think that the US didn’t go through 2 World Wars. The introduction of laws to make the incitement of the people a crime was a reaction to WWII and the fear (in Germany) of fascism coming back in post-war Germany. Such laws in Europe don’t indicate to me that Europe takes racism more seriously.

  10. Charles "hipbone" Cameron

    Hi Jessie:

    What about the MLK and other “stealth” sites? You may find them via a search engine while looking for materials on King and the civil rights movement, but the very reason they’re in “stealth” mode is that they’re intended to capture — sucker in, lure in? — unwary souls who are not looking for racial hatred and supply them with (initially covert) pointers in that direction…

  11. Jessie Author

    Hi jwbe, Charles! Technically, jwbe, the U.S. was involved in both WW’s, but I assume that what you mean is that these wars were not on our soil. While I agree that the passing of laws such as ‘hate speech laws’ were, initially, about preventing the re-emergence of fascism, the (perhaps unintended) result has been to make expressions of racism something that people widely view as a problem that requires government intervention. That’s simply not the case here in the U.S. where expressions of racism are viewed as an inalienable right of being an American.
    |
    Charles, thanks for raising the issue of what I call “cloaked sites,” which disguise their racist intent by hiding authorship. In my research, I did interviews along with a quasi-experimental design with a small sample of young people (ages 15-19) about how they made sense of these cloaked sites when they encountered them in a search. What I found was that, for the most part, they couldn’t distinguish the cloaked sites from the legitimate sites. And, I think that’s a real threat.
    |
    But – and this is an important ‘but’ – the threat is not that any of the urban, Internet-using, young people raised in the post-civil rights era that I interviewed, are going to be “recruited” as members of hate groups. Social movement membership doesn’t work that way and the Internet doesn’t work that way.
    |
    I could find literally zero cases of someone “stumbling upon” a hate site and then subsequently becoming a member of hate group – and I spent several years looking for evidence of this kind of thing.
    |
    In some ways, it comes down to the way that people use the word “recruit” which people use very loosely to mean all sorts of things like: “change someone’s thinking about some issue” or “become a frequent visitor to a website espousing certain types of viewpoints.” These types of things don’t meet the definition of what sociologists usually refer to when they talk about “social movement group membership.”
    |
    The link between what people do online (related to social movements or not) is really difficult to tease out and – as far as I know – no one yet has a complete answer for all the dimensions about how online surfing relates to actions offline.
    |
    Still, I think that the real danger in these sites online – whether overt or cloaked – is an epistemological one. And, by that I mean, the really dangerous part is that bit about “changing someone’s thinking about some issue”. In my view, that’s much more likely and much more pernicious than social movement membership. I’m not at all sure that the purpose of a cloaked site like the MLK site is to “recruit” young people into hate groups (though I’m sure they’d be happy with that result).
    |
    I think the broader purpose is about changing large numbers of people’s thinking about the historical legacy of Martin Luther King, and along with that, undermining the goal of racial equality central to the civil rights movement. In accomplishing that goal, they’re – at least potentially – much, much more effective (and dangerous).

  12. jwbe

    >Hi jwbe, Charles! Technically, jwbe, the U.S. was involved in both WW’s, but I assume that what you mean is that these wars were not on our soil.
    .
    yes this is what I mean. War means something different if you send your soldiers around the world
    .

    >the (perhaps unintended) result has been to make expressions of racism something that people widely view as a problem that requires government intervention.
    .
    which is wrong, there are certain symbols, gestures or sentences/phrases prohibited, like showing a swastika, the Hitlergruß, Holocaust denial etc, but not necessarily racism or expressions of racism itself. While I consider it as positive that such laws exist, they don’t mean that Europe takes racism more seriously and I wonder if Europe takes racism in general seriously.

Leave a Reply