Jewish groups combat hatred in cyberspace

LOS ANGELES — The marketing of hate, racism and terrorism on the Internet and World Wide Web has become so pervasive that two leading Jewish organizations are giving top priority to ways of combating the spreading plague of such influences in cyberspace.

So serious is the threat in the eyes of the Anti-Defamation League that the issue headed its recently released 1997 list, of the top 10 stories affecting American Jewry.

"The Internet and the World Wide Web were increasingly exploited by neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, racists, Holocaust deniers and other extremists in 1997, and the technology became a more significant part of their propaganda arsenal," noted the ADL. Sophisticated Web sites have become the racists' "marketing tool" of choice, far more effective than old-fashioned fliers and pamphlets, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

While the ADL in New York and the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles agree on the urgency of stemming the flow of electronic hate messages, their approaches differ.

ADL is teaming up with a software company to develop a filter enabling Internet users to screen out hate sites, substituting instead messages on the dangers of prejudice.

The filter is being developed by The Learning Group, whose Cyber Patrol program is used widely by parents to block Web sites carrying pornographic and graphically violent material.

For its part, the Wiesenthal Center hopes to stem the spread of hate messages by urging commercial on-line companies to police themselves.

To make Internet service providers (ISPs) aware of the magnitude of the problem, the center has compiled a virtual who's who of 600 hate groups with their own Web sites.

These sites are catalogued in a three-part, interactive CD-ROM, titled "Racism, Mayhem & Terrorism: The Emergence of an On-line Subculture of Hate," which will be distributed to law enforcement agencies, educators, the media and the public.

"Over the last year alone, hate sites have grown by about 300 percent, which, among other things, provide detailed recipes for bomb-making, recruit young people and sell racist music," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

Cooper sees the disc as a "collective wake-up call," particularly to the ISPs, which host the Web sites and can draft policies to regulate them. Some providers already have guidelines in place barring hate groups, while others object to such controls as freedom-of-speech violations.

Cooper rejects the latter line of argument. Web sites are marketing tools, just like ads in newspapers, he said. Similar to the New York Times, which won't run a Ku Klux Klan ad, the ISPs have the right to set certain standards.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent