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Crossing the line from criticism to hate

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  • U.M. Cornet
    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE NOTE: The following UMNS story Crossing the line from criticism to hate is the second of a two-part report. The report
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2000
      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE

      NOTE: The following UMNS story "Crossing the line from criticism to hate" is
      the second of a two-part report. The report includes another story, "As
      Internet grows, so does number of hate sites," a sidebar and an information
      box. See http://umns.umc.org/dailynews.html for the other information.

      The unofficial Confessing Movement web site has re-titled "Crossing the line
      from criticism to hate" in its link to this story. It says, "UM Computer
      Consultant Gets Hateful About Hate - October 2, 2000" See:
      http://ucmpage.org/news_page.html


      -----

      Crossing the line from criticism to hate
      Oct. 2, 2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom� (212) 870-3803� New York
      {446}

      A UMNS Feature

      By Linda Bloom*

      When does a Web site cross the line from criticism of a group or
      individual to a display of hate?

      Do images of someone burning in hell, being flushed down a toilet or
      being equated with an animal breach the boundary?

      The Rev. Nancy Carter, a United Methodist computer consultant, said she
      struggles with the idea of what it means to go over the line. But she
      does believe that equating people with animals, making them less than
      human, is offensive.

      "When you dehumanize them � that's hate," she said.

      While such imagery may not meet a legal definition of hate, it certainly
      is not appropriate for any person or group claiming to be religious, she
      added.

      The Web site of the Rev. Fred Phelps � whose virulent attacks on
      homosexuals were evident in his pickets at the United Methodist General
      Conference last May in Cleveland � refers to homosexuals as dogs, sows
      and much worse. Among the denominations he considers "fag churches in
      general" are the United Methodist, Episcopal, Missouri Synod Lutheran,
      Evangelical Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic
      churches, as well as the Jewish Reform and Conservative movements.
      Phelps leads a Baptist church in Topeka, Kan.

      Like Phelps, some groups make their messages very clear from the start.
      The cover page for one Klan group, America's Invisible Empire, which
      describes itself as "a racially aware Christian community," issues a
      warning as the music to "Onward Christian Soldiers" plays in the
      background. "If you do not believe that white Christian people should be
      in control of the governments of our land, then this is no place for
      you," the warning states.

      Carter, who has been tracking hate sites off and on since 1995, noted
      that other groups have made the effort to soft-pedal their language in
      order to promote a message of hate to a mainstream audience.

      "They repackage their message in a way that sounds acceptable," she
      said. "But the bottom line is still the same."

      And it's frighteningly easy to get to, according to Mark Weitzman,
      director of the Task Force Against Hate for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
      "All you need to do, if you're a kid or an adult, is go to a search
      engine, type in the word 'Nazi' or 'skinhead' and you're there."

      Most people don't realize that such sites are so accessible, he added,
      and that they are used for recruitment and propaganda purposes. Nor do
      they realize that more traditional methods of dealing with hateful
      language or acts don't work the same in cyberspace.

      "Practically and legally, combating online extremism is enormously
      difficult," the Anti-Defamation League notes in the introduction to its
      "Poisoning the Web" pages on its Internet site. "The First Amendment's
      protection of free speech shields most extremist propaganda, and
      Internet service providers, the private companies that host most
      extremist sites, may freely choose whether to house these sites or not."

      Weitzman suggested that anyone using the Internet needs to go back to
      some basic skills of reading, evaluating and thinking and certainly not
      accepting everything they read "as gospel." Children must be guided to
      do such critical thinking as well.

      "This wonderful tool and device for communication and education needs a
      lot of work to go along with it," he said.

      He also suggested holding companies involved in e-commerce to standards
      of responsibility. He believes such companies will listen if their
      bottom line is affected.

      At the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the task force on
      Ministries in the Midst of Hate and Violence appreciates the need for
      vigilance as computer technology continues to expand, according to
      consultant Sandra Peters.

      The challenge, she said, "is to understand how to more effectively
      understand and provide information regarding how technology can be used
      to promote the message that all persons are God's children in his
      image."

      # # #

      *Bloom is news director of United Methodist News Service's New York
      office.
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