The internet plays host to groups spouting hatred and terror, but some social network companies do better than others at halting their spread

Combatting the web of hate

by Julian Ryall

The amount of religious and racial hate being preached on the internet is rising rapidly, with some social media companies guilty of failing to shut down extremist groups that promote Nazi ideology or call for the extermination of Christians, Muslims or Jews.

And as the recent protests against Korean residents of this country demonstrate, Japan is not immune from similar forms of race based hatred.

According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, there are at present some 20,000 websites and social media links that threaten other religious or ethnic groups. They range from neo Nazi groups in America to the School of Contemporary Online Jihad and Baidu forums in China that are a platform for taunts and warnings to Japan. That figure is up from 15,000 sites just a couple of years ago.

“The internet does not cause hatred, but it reflects what is going on in society and multiplies the messages that are being sent, making it appear that there is far broader support for these attitudes than really exists,” said Rabbi Cooper, who gave an overview of the Wiesenthal Center’s 15th annual report, titled “Digital Terrorism & Hate Project” at the FCCJ on Nov. 6.

As if to underline Rabbi Cooper’s point, an Indonesian man went on trial the same day in Jakarta, accused of plotting with other extremists to blow up the embassy of Myanmar in the Indonesian capital to avenge the deaths of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Police said Separiano, 29, learned how to build a crude bomb on the internet and linked up with like minded individuals via Facebook.

In spite of that case, Rabbi Cooper said that Facebook performs the best in terms of dealing with hate speech on its pages, with two dedicated teams one in Silicon Valley in California and the second in Ireland tasked with monitoring pages added to the site and removing any that fail to meet their standards on hate speech.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center does not always agree with Facebook’s policies, however. The company considers Holocaust deniers’ attitudes to be free speech and therefore protected. If the government of Iran, on the other hand, denied the Holocaust had happened as part of its propaganda against Israel and the Jews, that would be considered hate speech and removed.

While Facebook is performing reasonably well, Rabbi Cooper said Twitter gets an F grade. Just hours before the social networking giant launched its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, driving the value of the seven year old company to $25 billion, Rabbi Cooper said Twitter “has done nothing” to stop links to hate sites.

“Increasingly, terrorist organizations are using Twitter as part of their marketing strategy and for command and control,” he said, pointing out that live Tweets had gone out shortly before extremists attacked the Westgate shopping center in Kenya in September urging Muslims not to go to the mall.

“Twitter has a responsibility to address these issues as terrorism is not an issue of free speech; it is an existential threat,” Rabbi Cooper said. “They have an obligation, especially as a forprofit company, to be a good corporate citizen and they should be doing everything they can to degrade or block these messages.”

The annual report gives YouTube a C grade for its performance over the last year, with Rabbi Cooper saying the terms of usage are very good, but the commitment to carrying out those terms is “wobbly.” That permits videos to be uploaded providing, for example, step bystep explanations of how to construct a bomb in your own kitchen or how to create home made napalm.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper speaking at the Club

The center’s on line presentation demonstrates just what is available in cyber space, as well as how easy it is to locate. Sites exist extolling the virtues of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, while a posting on a Baidu forum states, “The Jew is the second lowest ethnic group. The Japanese are the first.”

Instead of praising the achievements of Martin Luther King, the website is run by white supremacists and promotes “The Truth About King” and “Black Invention Myths.” Sites in the Philippines call on young people there to join the extremist Moro National Liberation Front; others promote Nazi themed sports bars in Korea or Thailand. Yet more are operated by Al-Qaeda and teach the would be suicide bomber how to go about his or her gruesome task.

Halting the proliferation of such attitudes is extremely difficult, Rabbi Cooper said, but if a hate message can be taken down even for a short time then he considers it a success. “Our approach with these hate sites is to go to the company that provides the platform and show them their own terms of usage,” he said. And as those contracts invariably contain obligations on language, threats or intolerance in any form, then posters can be excluded and pages removed. “Only a small section of these platforms are being systematically abused, but the only way to make a dent in this is not through new laws, but through companies, activists, parents and teachers standing up,” he said.

Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.