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The Intersection Of Online Hate And Free Speech: An Interview with ADL National Director Abraham Foxman

Suffolk University to honor ADL's national director Abraham Foxman despite student opposition,

Suffolk University to honor ADL's national director Abraham Foxman despite student opposition,
Photo Credit: Justin Hoch

You have the same thing with Holocaust denial. There are more people out there propagating hate and denial than understanding, learning and being sympathetic to the lessons of the Holocaust. The Google and Yahoo people’s first answer [was] “Why don’t you tell your community to bombard Google with good stuff?” and in fact…we did that. The Jewish community sent out word to “go out there and bombard with ‘I love Jews’ and nice stuff about Jews.” It worked, but it’s crazy. You can’t expect to wake up in the morning and your job becomes to defend the Jewish people, African-American people, Hispanic people.

So far what happens is that when there are egregious abuses, I would say seven out of ten times, the major companies that run these websites do respond and do remove the content. But there is another problem: That stuff never dies on the Internet. You can take it off but it finds its way back, and it always exists somewhere in the stratosphere.

What can regular Internet users do to mitigate the prevalence of anti-Jewish material?

They should be alert to it, complain to us [at ADL], to the providers, share with the legislators. First of all it’s awareness. Number two is to use the [online] vehicle for good speech. We can also ask the providers to put disclaimers on some of the stuff out there. A couple of months ago a [Facebook page] appeared about [a] third Intifada. The providers said, “This is like a conversation; it’s freedom of speech,” and we said to them, “Intifada is not a conversation piece, it’s a call for violence, and therefore you should not permit it.” We complained to Facebook, Facebook analyzed it and came back to us saying “you’re right,” and they removed it.

What are some unusual examples of online hate, or examples that people might easily recognize?

There is one website named for Martin Luther King Jr. that masquerades [as a harmless website]. Innocently, you may want to find out what Martin Luther King said, what he was about, and you log on [to this particular site] and all of a sudden you realize, or you may not realize, that it’s a white supremacist website.

What many of the hate organizations did early on was to purchase and protect website domains. Many people in the beginning of the Internet weren’t aware of the value of this. If you buy a domain for the Holocaust Institute, it could become anything, but it becomes Holocaust denial. You have to be aware. Every great invention in our history has had two sides to it. There was also a dark side, and we need to understand it. That’s basically what [my new] book says.”

(JNS)

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Suffolk University to honor ADL's national director Abraham Foxman despite student opposition,

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), has a new book coming out next week, Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet, co-written with attorney Christopher Wolf, a pioneer in Internet law.

The book discusses how racists and anti-Semites are using the Internet to disseminate their hateful information and poses tough questions about the responsibility of the public to fight against this phenomenon in the U.S., where the law is highly protective of free speech.

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