CyberWatch Column


Hate Groups


Professor of Computer Information Systems

Norwich University, Northfield, VT

This is another in a continuing series devoted to how ordinary people can protect themselves when using the Internet.

Another source of concern for parents is the easy accessibility of hate literature on the Web.† Hatemongers have taken full advantage of the largely unregulated nature of the net to spread their pernicious messages.† One can find Web sites devoted to hatred of every imaginable identifiable group.† Race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, political ideology -- anything can spark hatred in susceptible personalities.† Unfortunately, some of the hate groups have been successful in recruiting young people through the Web; they publish propaganda such as pro-Nazi revisionist history that may fool uncritical people into believing their rants.† Neo-nazi and racist skinhead groups have formed hate-rock groups that take advantage of kids' enthusiasm for very loud music with aggressive lyrics.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there are over 2,300 Web sites advocating hatred, of which over 500 are extremist sites hosted on American servers but authored by Europeans; most European countries have strict anti-hate laws.† Using more stringent criteria, the HateWatch group estimates more than 500 extremist hate sites on the Web.

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors around 500 active hate organizations in the United States.† They have regularly reported on the growing number and stridency of such sites.† In his comments to Keith Perine of Network World (July 24, 2000), spokesperson Mark Potok said, ďA few years ago, a Klansman needed substantial effort and money to produce and distribute a shoddy pamphlet that might reach a few hundred people.† Today, with a $500 computer and negligible costs, that same Klansman can put up a slickly produced Web site with a potential audience in the millions.Ē

A fundamental issue is that human beings find it very easy to affiliate with each other to form in-groups:† the groups to which they feel we belong.† Unfortunately, defining in-groups naturally means itís equally easy to define out-groups:† groups to which we feel we donít belong.† Grade-school and high-school cliques are examples of in/out-group definition.† A wealth of study in social psychology confirms the validity of the universal impression that we tend to inflate our esteem for in-groups and to reduce our respect and liking for out-groups.† However, research also shows that social norms against discrimination can reduce hostility towards out-groups; thus it seems likely that parental and teacher articulation of norms of tolerance can significantly reduce childrenís susceptibility to the blandishments of hate groups.

Practical Guidelines: