Crossing the line from criticism to hate
- 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:
Crossing the line from criticism to hate
Oct. 2, 2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom� (212) 870-3803� New York
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
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
# # #
*Bloom is news director of United Methodist News Service's New York
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