Rights Group Urges Internet Limits
Citing “the rapidly expanding presence of organized hate groups on the Internet,” a leading Jewish human rights group on Tuesday began sending letters to hundreds of Internet access providers and universities asking them to refuse to carry messages that “promote racism, anti-Semitism, mayhem and violence.”
The letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a 425,000-member organization based in Los Angeles, is the latest in a growing effort by legislators and private interest groups to censor offensive material on the global data network.
“Internet providers have a First Amendment right and a moral obligation not to provide these groups with a platform for their destructive propaganda,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, wrote in the letter that was sent to America Online, Compuserve, Prodigy, the Microsoft Network and dozens of Internet service providers.
Dozens of groups, from white supremacists to anarchists, have published documents on the World Wide Web about their points of view.
Some are revisionist histories and some are racist tracts denigrating blacks, Jews, homosexuals and other minorities.
Such hate speech is not illegal under federal law and is generally protected by First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.
But efforts are growing to restrict certain types of information on computer networks. Congress is debating a proposal that would make it illegal to transmit indecent material on the Internet. Even before such laws are passed, some Internet access providers have begun dropping clients who post offensive materials.
“The Wiesenthal Center should realize that it is not possible to make anti-Semitism or historical revisionism go away by censoring it,” said Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that focuses on computer networks.
“The best response is always to answer bad speech with more speech.”