In follow-up inquiries to my post on the NotCanada.com anti-immigration website, I came across Stormfront.org a racist, neo-Nazi website and I have been thinking about it and its ilk quite a bit since then, specifically about what could be done to confront sites/groups like this. It’s an issue I’ve touched on before (eg, in posts on the killing of Dr. Tiller), but I am no closer to a solution or to feeling reconciled to my lack of a solution.
There seem to be a few possibilities:
- ignore them and hope they go away;
- try to get them shut down, rounded up, put away, whatever, through official channels; or
- take direct action against them.
If they were marching or holding a rally, we could hold a counter-march/rally, as has frequently been done in the US when neo-Nazis have crawled out of their holes. But how does one hold a counter-protest for a website? Well, I guess by putting up anti-Nazi, anti-racist websites, and by posts such as this. But it feels a bit… feeble.
I suppose I think that on this subject I largely end up preaching to the converted, while they provide opportunities for people with doubts and fears and anger to be twisted into monsters. It’s not really rational – maybe the people who are changeable come to places like this, and it is they who end up preaching to the converted. But I don’t really think so. And the evidence is pretty clear that the internet presence of neo-Nazi and other hate groups has had a dramatic effect on the number of adherents to their beliefs in the United States and Europe in recent years.
Going after these hate groups through official channels – trying to get them arrested, trying to get their speech banned, etc. – is something I have talked about before, and dismissed as unworkable. In the US and countries with similar notions of free speech, such efforts generally will not pass legal muster, or are very limited. And experience suggests that as often as not, laws and restrictions aimed at unpopular groups impact the left as much if not more than the right, so this seems a tactic too likely to backfire.
In some countries, there are laws in place which are used against hate groups – laws against hate speech, for instance, and in Germany and Austria specifically anti-Nazi laws. But the internet has made these laws much less effective. The German laws prohibiting Nazi propaganda can do little to stop material posted elsewhere (ie, on servers in other countries) still being accessible to people in Germany. Nonetheless, in 2000, according to an article in Wired, Germany’s highest court ruled that “German legislation passed in the wake of World War II that banned the Nazi party and any glorification of it — including denial of the Holocaust — can be applied to Internet content that originates outside of the country’s borders.”
The German court ruling, as unlikely to be successful as it seems, represents an attempt to respond to the explosive growth of hate material on the internet. As Charles Cooper points out in an article in CNet News concerning a lawsuit over Nazi material on YouTube, “hate groups figured among the earliest of the early adopters [of the internet].” Cooper argues that trying to get such material banned is the wrong way to go, though he too is uncertain of the right way:
Google [as owner of YouTube] shouldn’t get hung out to dry. Instead of being on the receiving end of a lawsuit, aren’t there more sensible, if not more calibrated ways to figure out the next step? I don’t have any quick answer to the question. Let’s get a conversation going and let me know how you think the sides should proceed.
Unfortunately, the conversation that followed in the comments on his piece did little beyond reiterate the importance of free speech, even when it allows hate material to proliferate.
If going after hate groups through laws against hate speech doesn’t seem too promising, another official avenue to pursue might be more economic in focus. Boycotts have worked wonders in the past, but unfortunately there is little to boycott in the obvious way – what, we would all stop buying copies of Mein Kampf from these groups? But another form of boycott has been employed successfully against media outlets by, for example, boycotting TV stations that air objectionable material and registering protests with companies that advertise on these stations.
One way of doing something like this with online hate groups would be to go after the internet providers they use. Stormfront’s website is hosted by ThePlanet.Com, a Texas-based IT hosting company. It might be possible to get this company to pull its hosting of the neo-Nazi group’s website if enough negative publicity were generated. This would be much more likely if the hosting company could be given a clear, legally valid pretext for severing its connection to the hate group.
The generally accepted wisdom is that ISPs and hosting companies function as “common carriers” and are no more responsible for material that passes through their facilities than the phone company, and courts in the US by and large have protected internet providers from lawsuits over the activities of their clients.
But The Planet’s Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) [here] would seem to provide some openings for going after this neo-Nazi website, even though the bulk of its specific prohibitions concern such obvious no-no’s as spam and phishing, child porn, and copyright violations. It states:
Users shall not allow the posting, transmission, or storage of data or content on or through The Planet Services … which, in The Planet’s sole determination, constitutes a violation of any federal, state, local or international law, regulation, ordinance, court order or other legal process (“Applicable Law”).
Not being a lawyer, I am not clear on precisely, legally, what the term “international law” might cover in this context, but it does seem suggestive when considered in light of Germany’s pretty serious ant-Nazi laws. The AUP goes on:
Users are prohibited from engaging in any activities that The Planet determines, in its sole discretion, to constitute network abuse, including, but not limited to, the following: […] Soliciting the performance of any illegal activity, even if the activity is not performed.
A careful review of material on the website might turn up something of this nature, which – even if it were too weak for pursuit by law enforcement – might be sufficient to give ThePlanet a legitimate pretext for booting the neo-Nazis’ website.
Finally, still further in the AUP, it states “If any User uses The Planet Services … in a manner that exposes The Planet to potential liability … The Planet may suspend permanently or terminate the access to The Planet Services … by such User.” Given the lawsuit pursued by a German group against YouTube for its hosting of pro-Nazi material, or the very recent conviction of Google in a case in Italy, a fairly strong case might be made for holding this neo-Nazi website in violation of the AUP on this point.
Letters to ThePlanet.com raising these issues, particularly if written by lawyers, and accompanied by publicity, might be enough to get them to cancel their hosting of this neo-Nazi group’s website. And the same could no doubt be done for other hate groups.
This too is a tactic that could backfire. I can see anarchist, marxist and queer sites being the targets of campaigns like the one I have just outlined. And while it might be possible to get neo-Nazi websites shut down through tactics such as this, I’m sure they would quickly find new homes and reappear. Spammers and phishers certainly seem to have no trouble getting hosted.
As Woody Allen once said, “Satire is great, but for Nazis you use baseball bats and broken bottles.” If satire, counter-protests, and anti-racist websites aren’t doing the trick, and going through “official channels” is ineffectual or too likely to backfire, what about “baseball bats” – that is, not physical violence against persons, but some form of direct action?
Some people have been taking direct action against Nazi groups online. Late last year, according to an article in The Register, “anti-fascist hackers … struck a major blow at controversial World War II historian David Irving by taking down two of his websites and publishing scores of his emails and private information.” And a year earlier, The Register reported that “German anti-fascist hackers have broken into the secure forum server of one of the world’s largest neo-Nazi groups, Blood & Honour, and copied more than 30,000 pieces of data.”
Is “cyberwar” against the far right and hate groups the way to go in combating the rise of neo-Nazis and radical right hate groups on the net?
To be continued…
- Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – “We track the activities of hate groups and domestic terrorists across America, and we launch innovative lawsuits that seek to destroy networks of radical extremists.”
- Stormfront | Hatewatch | Southern Poverty Law Center – articles discussing Stormfront on the SPLC’s Hatewatch.
- Dead Kennedys – “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”.
- Pro-Nazi YouTube video – apparently compiled/created by the neo-Nazi group discussed here.
- BBC NEWS | Europe | Germany beefs up anti-Nazi laws.
- “Forgiving Hitler” – a satirical YouTube video, with some disturbing comments.
- Film Footage of Nazi Concentration Camps, compiled by the US Dept. of Defense.
- Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- HOPE not hate: Celebrating modern Britain, exposing the extremism of the British National Party (BNP).