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Posted Wednesday, November 11, 1998

The Traditional Enemies of Free Speech Dig their Hate-filled Anti-Truth Ditches even Deeper



The New York Times


November 11, 1998

Rights Group Develops 'Hate' Filter



[I]n an unusual move, a prominent non-profit human rights group has developed and will sell to the public an Internet filter that blocks access to several hundred Web sites that it has determined advocate bigotry.

The group, the Anti-Defamation League, unveil the device, aimed at parents and called the ADL HateFilter, at its annual national meeting in Boston Wednesday morning.

The venture is unusual because until now most Internet filters have been created and marketed by companies. And although many of those products allow users to block access to sites espousing intolerance, the devices are used most commonly to screen out online pornography.

The ADL filter bans sites that preach anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Among the off-limits Web pages are Ku Klux Klan sites; the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church's "God Hates Fags" site and the white supremacist Aryan Nations site.

FoxmanAbraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group had undertaken the project to bring the 85-year-old organization's experience in fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice to the Internet. He said the group "stands with a certain reputation and credibility on this subject" that for-profit filtering companies do not have.

Foxman said many hate Web sites employ sophisticated Internet technology, like video and animation, that could appeal to young people. And the fact that the sites appear on a screen gives the hate messages "a certain patina of credibility," Foxman asserted, adding that Web sites are more insidious than earlier forms of hate propaganda, because they enter households unbidden.

"Hate out there is rampant," he said. "You used to have to make an effort to get hate. Now it comes into your home unsuspected."

Nonetheless, the ADL filter could well spark renewed debate about the flaws of filters and, more fundamentally, whether the devices are appropriate shields from offensive material online or high-tech censorship.

Karen G. Schneider, a librarian who has written a book about filters, said she believed the ADL effort was misguided, because, in her view, it sought to fight prejudice with an electronic version of eye-averting.

"I find it disturbing that the Anti-Defamation League thinks that the way to prevent anti-Semitism is to hide it from the people who care about anti-Semitism," she said, adding later: "There's nothing to make a bad idea look silly like putting it out in the cold, hard light of day."

But Foxman said it was appropriate for concerned parents to try to keep hate speech from their doorstep. "If I as a parent decide I don't want access to this or I don't want my child to have access to this, that's not censorship, that's exercising my constitutional right," he said.

Foxman added that the filter, which can be downloaded from an ADL Web site, is aimed at homes and parents, but could end up being used by others, too. "If a teacher decides to use it in the context of a school, that's their business," he said.

Click to Read the ADL's own hate-filled admission that it has not really got the hang of Free Speech yet.

The list of banned sites was put together, and will be updated, by a team at the ADL, which has been monitoring hate sites on the Internet for several years, and published reports on the subject.

But as of Tuesday, the device was not foolproof. When a user working on a computer with the filter running tried to reach three sites likely to be caught by the filter -- a Klan site, a skin-head site and a neo-Nazi site -- her access was blocked. But when she tried to reach a white nationalist site called rahowa, an acronym for "racial holy war," although she was denied entry to most of the site, she was still able to view the group's home page. It contained a crude joke about about Matthew Shepard, the gay college student killed in Wyoming last month.

Mark A. Edelman, a spokesman for the group, said that should not have happened, and that he would look into the matter. Shortly thereafter the user was unable to reach the rahowa home page.

Jonathan Wallace, one of the founding members of the Censorware Project, a group that opposes filtering, argued that filtering technology is still so crude that it is always imperfect, and that it ends up either blocking legitimate material, missing objectionable sites or both. "People market these products as if they protect a child 100 percent," he said. "What if it protects a child 40 percent?"

Foxman conceded that there could be flaws with filters, but he defended the device, saying, "It's still better than not having anything."

When the filter is in place, a user who tries to call up a proscribed site instead sees a page that says: "Hate Zone. Access Restricted." There is also a button that, if pressed, transports the user to an ADL "Stop Hate" Web site with information about bigotry.

The filter rests on technology developed by Cyber Patrol, a popular filtering product made by the Learning Company in Cambridge, Mass. It costs $29.95 for the first three months, and another $29.95 for every year's use thereafter. An ADL spokeswoman said the fee was meant to offset the costs of developing and maintaining the filter, not to generate a profit.

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Pamela Mendels at welcomes your comments and suggestions.
Our opinion
  So . . . for those Website visitors who want to poke their own eyes out -- go buy the ADL software, pay the quarterly update charges, and start poking. The danger is of course the teachers and state and federal education fund managers who dictate that schools and colleges must instal the ADL software or lose their computer-systems' funding.

Even then we expect that the brighter college students, finding they are denied access to a certain Web source by their "elders and betters", will go home and dial up the same URL on their father's or friends' computers and pay twice as much heed to what they find. Abraham Foxman does not sound one of the brightest specimens among the traditional enemies of the truth.

Related stories on this Website: + Surfwatch + German Web censors + Australia + Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties + Switzerland

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical. We have left in the hyperlinks to related sites without in any sense implying endorsement of them
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