'Social media key platform for incitement'

Rabbi Abraham Cooper discusses Wiesenthal Center’s annual review of online hatred where 14,000 websites are featured.

March 20, 2011 23:49
3 minute read.
THE ‘KILL A JEW’ page. By Sunday afternoon, before

Facebook 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The Internet, and in particular social networking websites such as Facebook, have quickly become the major forum for spreading hate and recruiting terrorists, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has just released its annual “Digital Terrorism and Hate Project” CD.

This year’s CD includes information from 14,000 websites, newsgroups, blogs, social networking pages and forums, an increase from the 11,500 included in last year’s CD. The current report also includes information about how new technologies, such as e-books, are being used to spread hate materials.

Especially in the last few months, Facebook and other social networking sites have seen an uptick in the number of pages threatening and slandering religious minorities, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

“We don’t want to be the thought police, but the truth of the matter is that social media has taken over as the main portal for marketing on the Internet, and that means the bad guys are there,” he said.

In the autumn, for example, pages entitled “Kill a Jew Day,” “Burn a Jew Day,” “Punch a Jew,” and “Kill a Jew Year” were discovered on Facebook. The pages were created via trolling, whereby untraceable profiles using stolen identities are created on social networking sites to post threatening and defamatory content.

One of the anti-Semitic pages listed above was created under the name of an activist combatting the content. Facebook removed another page, “Jews burn again, ‘Holocaust 2,’” shortly after it was posted.

The Wiesenthal Center is particularly concerned about the growing online availability of terrorist propaganda and training manuals which have been translated into English in order to recruit Muslims and Arabs from North America and Western Europe. In December, for example, the center noticed that materials written by the late Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri and al- Qaida’s “mad scientist,” had been translated into English and posted in four locations on a Canadian server.

“One of our concerns about terrorism material is that a lot of stuff which was previously only available in Arabic is now available in English,” said Cooper. “This reflects efforts to try to get young disaffected or idealistic Muslims to become the next lone-wolf terrorists.”

The Canadian government has enacted anti-hate legislation by which Internet providers can be held legally culpable if users act out on threats and propaganda they post online. The Wiesenthal presents its annual findings to Canadian lawmakers; Cooper was supposed to speak to parliament members in Ottawa in February, but the meeting was canceled due to inclement weather. “Canada does a pretty good job of eliminating the bad stuff, but that doesn’t stop the bad guys from using American venues,” said Cooper.

Findings from the CD, which also includes content from sites spouting hatred and threats against blacks, Latinos, Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, immigrants, and other groups, were presented to officers from the New York City Police Department at the Museum of Tolerance in New York City last month. On April 14, Cooper will make a presentation at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.

He is also planning to meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and with Facebook executives at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. Facebook has appointed a team fluent in 13 languages to monitor hate and incitement.

“We’re trying to get the Internet community to become more focused on their responsibilities,” said Cooper. “Right now, Facebook is both the biggest problem and the best ally in the fight.”

The Internet is also providing opportunities for hatemongers from different continents to find each other and collaborate.

For example, American white supremacist, anti-Semite and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has developed a following in the former Soviet Union and Arab countries because his materials can be accessed via a fast Google search, said Cooper.

The number of sites monitored by the Wiesenthal Center may appear high, but in fact, it is minuscule compared to the total amount of hate-filled sites and forums on the Internet. The phenomenon has grown relatively quickly; in 1995, the Wiesenthal Center knew of only one hate site.

This year’s CD is available for free to lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, and journalists. Members of the public can order copies from the Wiesenthal Center’s website.

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