Anti-Semitism on the Internet
A relatively new element in the overall picture of anti-Semitism
in the U.S. is "electronic hate"-bigotry transmitted
over the Internet. The Internet's growth has been remarkable.
By the end of 1996, an estimated 35 million people worldwide were
using it with thousands more going on-line each day. Tens of millions
of different types of transactions daily pass through the copper
and fiberoptic cables that tie its components together in a worldwide
network. It is the emblem of the modern age-of an ever-shrinking
world linked by shared information.
Unfortunately, amid the torrent of information on the Internet,
a disturbing stream of hate-filled vitriol directed against religious,
ethnic, racial and cultural minorities flows unimpeded. Anti-Semites
have been particularly active in exploiting the medium. They use
the Net to reach an audience many times larger than any they could
have ever previously hoped to reach with their flyers, rallies
and shopworn canards, creating a troubling, persistent anti-Semitic
background noise that pollutes the Internet. What was local is
now global, potentially accessible by everyone who uses the Internet:
the young and old, the sophisticated and the naive.
At first, the Internet was difficult to use and relatively inaccessible
to the average individual. Today, it has become much more "user-friendly"
and inexpensive, making it attractive to determined, if underfunded
and poorly supported, extremist hate groups. The network extends
the range of their message. It is now global, instantly accessible
to a dispersed audience. Online information is available at any
time, at relatively low cost to anyone with a computer and phone.
For consumers who simply want to browse the World Wide Web, send
E-mail and read and write to newsgroups, Internet access is fairly
inexpensive-less than 75 cents a day. The basic cost for would-be
publishers who want to distribute information on the World Wide
Web, the fastest growing part of the Internet, is not significantly
In addition, the Internet is an unregulated environment. Anyone
can start a site and publish anything. Unlike the traditional
marketplace where publishers, editors and reviewers were able
to separate out the lies and distortions of the haters, the Internet
makes all kinds of information equally accessible. The reputable
and the meretricious exist side by side and even responsible journalists
sometimes cannot tell them apart.
Internet technology gives eager propagandists a variety of ways
to spread their message. The World Wide Web-offering text, images,
sound and animation-can replace or supplement the newsletters
and other publications produced by hate groups. Learning basic
publishing skills for the World Wide Web, while not trivial, is
relatively straightforward; putting a site together can be a matter
of simple "sweat equity." On a higher, but not daunting,
level of sophistication, audio copies of speeches or radio broadcast
can be placed on line for downloading (copying) to the user's
machine for later playback or can be heard in "real time"-as
they are transmitted.
By 1996, a number of notorious extremists with long histories
of anti-Semitic activism were exploiting the possibilities of
the Web. Don Black, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan; Ernst
Zundel, a Hitler-admiring Holocaust denier; the neo-Nazi National
Alliance of William Pierce; Pete Peters who preaches the anti-Semitic
pseudo-theology known as "Identity" Christianity, and
Tom Metzger, a violence-advocating racist and anti-Semite, are
among those with a presence in cyberspace.
Some sites were particularly active. During the year, the National
Alliance began posting copies of its radio broadcasts on the Web.
Black continued to update his list of links to extremist sites
while Zundel published more and more material. Other Holocaust
deniers, Greg Raven of the Institute for Historical Review and
Bradley Smith, known for placing Holocaust-denying ads in college
newspapers, also increased their activity on the Web.
In 1996, hate publishing on the Web was in a state of flux. Some
previously active sites-The Aryan Crusaders Library and
Christian Identity Online-stopped publishing. Yet, despite
these losses, the number of haters using the Web gradually increased
USA Watch, the computer version of a particularly scurrilous
newspaper, Jew Watch, that frequently printed "articles"
about "Jewish ritual murder," disappeared early in the
year only to reappear with another name toward the end. Louis
Beam, a leading advocate of militant antigovernment resistance
who is associated with the ferociously anti-Semitic Aryan Nations,
started his own Web site. Others, less well known but eager, also
created their own hate pages. One young neo-Nazi skinhead proudly
posts his picture and announces that he is 16.
Usenet newsgroups-on-line community discussion bulletin boards-also
contribute to the proliferation of publicly visible anti-Semitic
hate on-line. Anyone with access can read and send messages to
the newsgroups. To read or post messages to a group, the user
simply uses the newsreader program provided by most Internet services.
The number of messages posted to the newsgroups is staggering;
upwards of 60,000,000 a year and growing! Considering these numbers,
it is not surprising that tens of thousands of anti-Semitic rants
show up each year and 1996 was no exception. Unlike the World
Wide Web, where the user must seek out a site, haters on the Usenet
can send their messages, unsolicited, to any group.
Some groups such as alt.politics.nationalism.white or alt.revisionism
are specifically designed to provide a discussion area for bigots
and anti-Semites. Here one finds the traditional themes of anti-Semites:
deicide; Jews in control of banks, the government and the media;
Jews as destroyers of culture. A newer wrinkle is the claim that
the Holocaust is a fiction-a Jewish/Zionist plot to extort money
It is not surprising that groups such as soc.culture.jewish
or soc.culture.israel-established to discuss issues of
concern to Jews-are, from time to time, peppered with anti-Semitic
screeds designed to provoke and upset. But any newsgroup is a
potential target for a bigot in the mood to antagonize and intimidate.
Soc.culture.nepal, misc.kids, alt.politics.media,
rec.music.compose or sci.physics, to mention a few
of the groups where one would not expect to find anti-Semitic
discussions, are among the many that have been "hit"
with incendiary messages from haters who seek to stir anti-Semitic
passions anywhere they can. And any person who wants to send hate
messages can send them to multiple groups at one time-a technique
known as "cross posting."
The nature of the Internet makes it very easy for haters to strike.
Unlike the people who venture out in the night to spray swastikas
on tombstones or synagogues, Internet bigots can spew their hatred
without ever running the risk of being identified. They can also
work far outside the neighborhoods in which they live. Newsgroup
hate messages are more like anonymous phone calls or letters that
can be sent simultaneously to hundreds or thousands of people.
(To be consistent with past practice, the ADL Audit counts
such simultaneous hate messages as one incident.)
Anonymity, a key part of Internet culture, also plays a role in
encouraging on-line hate. There is no requirement that a person
accurately identify him or herself. Unless the individual chooses
to reveal it, no one need know the user's real name, sex, age
or anything else about him or her. E-mail addresses are frequently
"handles"-nicknames-such as "Agent13" "Aryan"
or "Titan White." This is expected; role-playing is
a commonly accepted practice on the Internet. Also, many mail
programs make it possible for users to create false E-mail addresses,
a behavior common enough to have a name: "spoofing."
Some studies of user behavior on the Net indicate that precisely
because the user has no reality apart from the words on the screen,
computer-mediated communication encourages the asocial and unrestrained
behavior that characterizes many hate-motivated messages on the
E-mail is essentially a private, person-to-person technology but
it, too, can be adapted to the task of spreading anti-Semitic
propaganda. Mass mailings are simple-and require no postage. It
is a merely a matter of compiling a mailing list and sending a
message. It is possible to mail hate messages to the private mailboxes
of large numbers of people. From time to time, enterprising haters
have managed to mass-mail hate materials to tens, hundreds, or
even thousands of people without revealing their identity. Obviously,
the ADL Annual Audit cannot treat each of these messages as a
separate incident. Like other mass mailings of hate material,
however, such a massive E-mail transmission could be counted as
The challenge of on-line anti-Semitism is significant. The lies of the haters can be seen by more people than ever before. Men and women of goodwill must monitor the Internet and respond forcefully to the taunts and distortions of the bigots.
Source: Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents 1996. Copyright Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.