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Every generation has had its own share of crooks to make the worst use of the best ideas and inventions of the saints, thinkers and scientists of the time. Our generation is no exception. Scientists of our time have brought us the Internet. It is one of the finest means for education, communication, entertainment and commerce today. The crooks of our time are, however, misusing it to spread mutual hatred and violence. We all know what all they have been doing on various social  media  sites– Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. —to promote racialism, caste-ism, communalism, sectarianism, homophobia, misogyny and allied vices.

In their  recent work, Viral Hate (NY: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013),  Abraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf — American National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and National Chair of the ADL Civil Rights Committee respectively – have  analyzed this evil on the Internet today and sought to offer a blueprint for its practical remedies. Foxman and Wolf suggested that Internet industry, the world community and societies must work together toward a solution without compromising our indispensable freedom of expression. There is not one agreed upon universal definition of hate speech. Indeed, defining hate speech is profoundly complicated.  Decisions concerning the regulation of online content made by one or a few people behind closed doors and announced by corporate or government officials may be controversial and unsustainable.  One practical solution could be a collaborative approach. The authors have argued to empower kids to protect themselves online so that when they group up they will understand that certain words and behaviors are not acceptable.


In his review of this Foxman-Wolf research enterprise, British Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor  argues, “Hate speech is designed to threaten certain groups publicly and act as propaganda for offline organizations. Hate groups use websites to share ideology and propaganda, to link to similar sites and to recruit new converts, advocate violence and to threat others.”  We need to understand the ways hate mongers utilize the Internet and help the targets of Net-hate.

Professor Cohen-Almagor argues, “The Internet provides cheap, instantaneous and anonymous distribution that can be easily downloaded and posted in multiple places. The transnational nature of the World-Wide-Web, its vast content, the fact that it has no central management or coordination, and that the routing computers do not retain copies of the packets they handle provide ample opportunities for people to exploit the Net’s massive potential to enhance partisan interests, some of which are harmful and anti-social, thus undermining people’s sense of trust in the Net. The problem is presented by the relatively small number of people who abuse the Net to harm others.”

The professor says Foxman and Wolf have explored “how social media giants such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as the most successful search engine Google, are struggling to reconcile the demands of business with freedom of expression and the real-life threats posed by the present purveyors of hate. Only unified efforts by parents, educators, Net users, law enforcement officers, and policy makers can possibly stop the hate contagion before it translates into hate crimes.

Is it not indeed high time for modern-day thinkers to devise appropriate mechanism to address the challenge posed by hate mongers on the Internet? I must say that I am unsure whether the Foxman-Wolf pill against evil is sufficient.   I am not sure  parents, educators, Net-users, law enforcement officers, and policy makers can all be enlightened enough to make unified efforts against the hate contagion. The pattern discerned in the history of human behavior, in general, has been utterly disappointing.

Unfortunately, today’s civil society is often neither civil nor social. It has been too much in the rulers’ comfort zone and not vigilant or assertive enough for the sake of humanity. Due to this civic deficiency we are witnessing violence against women, minorities and non-conformist individuals in different parts of the world. This is also why there is so much hatred around.

Some time back I myself had a bitter taste as to how our contemporary civil society could behave in countering wrong-doing on the Internet. It must have been a fanatic who dragged my name on his Twitter account in hurling his own churlish abuse against Pakistan founder M. A. Jinnah. This is not in my spiritual, cultural and intellectual tradition to abuse people, any people. I protested Twitter, requesting it to stop anyone using my name to abuse Jinnah. I reported the matter on Facebook too. No action has so far been taken. Twitter has not withdrawn the nasty quote made in my name. None of my Facebook virtual friends has condemned the act of the fanatic in the case. We all need to be proactive in combating hate on the Internet. Beware, all crimes against humanity have taken place only when what we call civil society is either utterly ignorant or passive! Fanatics have no religion; they are all absolute fascists thriving on the politics of hatred!

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Jagdish N. Singh is an Indian journalist based in New Delhi.