Virtual Hate Communities in the 21st Century

Virtual Hate Communities in the 21st Century

Glenn T. Tsunokai (Western Washington University, USA) and Allison R. McGrath (Vanderbilt University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch003
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Abstract

Technological innovations in computer-mediated communication have helped hate groups to transform themselves into virtual communities. Likeminded individuals are now able to unite from all parts of the globe to promote hatred against visible minorities and other out-groups. Through their online interactions, a sense of place is often created. In this chapter, we explore the content and function of online hate communities. Since bigotry tends to be the cornerstone of virtual hate communities, we highlight the legal debate surrounding the regulation of Internet hate speech; in particular, we address the question: Does the First Amendment protect virtual community members who use the Internet to advocate hate? Next, using data collected from the largest hate website, Stormfront.org, we also investigate how Stormfront members utilize interactive media features to foster a sense of community. Finally, we direct our attention to the future of online hate communities by outlining the issues that need to be further investigated.
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Introduction

Our mission is to provide information not available in the controlled news media and to build a community of White activists working for the survival of our people.

Donald Black, Founder of Stormfront.org

Since its inception, the Internet has dramatically altered how we carry out certain types of activities. From information gathering to selecting a compatible mate, the World Wide Web has made our society a much smaller, accessible place. At any given moment, a person can find information on virtually any topic. Anything we desire is seemingly just a keystroke away. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to this technological innovation. The emergence of the Internet has been a boon for hatemongers and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, White Nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Skinheads. The Web represents a low-cost way to distribute information about white supremacy to both a national and international audience. Membership to hate organizations is no longer restricted by physical distance; instead, the Internet has ostensibly transformed hate groups into aspatial communities. Although a person can live thousands of miles away from an active hate group, he or she can still be a purveyor of racial hate and intolerance via the Internet— the portal or conduit for hate in the 21st century. As noted by Mark Potok (as cited in Levin, 2002, p. 965), Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Far more than hard copy publications, the Internet allows the lone wolf to remain a part of a larger movement even though he attends no meetings, puts his name on no lists, and generally tries to remain invisible.” At the same time, hate websites also provide white supremacists with the opportunity to develop and nurture online friendships with similar minded individuals. Through social exchanges and interactions, a sense of community is often established, transforming hate websites into virtual hate communities.

The present chapter examines four interrelated issues surrounding virtual hate communities that specifically target racial/ethnic minorities. First, based on findings from existing studies, we discuss the evolution of hate websites into virtual communities, analyzing both the general content and function of these cyber-cities. Next, we highlight the legal debate surrounding the regulation of Internet hate speech by addressing the question: Are cyber communities that actively promote hate on the Web completely protected under the First Amendment? Accordingly, we discuss pertinent legal cases and conditions that help define the boundaries of protected speech on the Internet. Third, we present a case study on one of the oldest and largest white supremacist websites, Stormfront.org. Besides providing a descriptive portrait of the community itself, we also examine the online habits and behaviors of its members. The present article concludes with a discussion concerning the future of E-hate communities. Within this section we explore the issue surrounding online-offline relationships. For example, we address the question, will online participation lead to a more visible hate movement in the real world? Finally, since legal options to regulate virtual hate communities are limited, we also highlight other available strategies to curb the growth of online hate groups.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hate Speech: A form of hostile, prejudicial, or discriminatory expression (i.e., physical and/or verbal behavior) leveled against a person, or a group of persons, based on the characteristics associated with that person or group of people (i.e., sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation).

Stormfront: Stormfront.org is the oldest and most established online virtual hate community that provides its members with relevant information concerning the white power movement, as well as providing members with a setting where they can foster relationships with other similar minded individuals.

Online/Virtual Communities: Online social communities that provide members with a setting to exchange information and foster online relationships. Virtual communities meet the specified characteristics associated with communities in the physical world: sense of belonging, influence on one’s life, fulfillment of personal needs, and an overall shared emotional connection.

White Supremacy Movement: A political and social movement to protect the status of the white race. The movement is founded on the belief that whites are superior to all other racial and ethnic groups.

Hate Groups: An organized group of individuals who espouse hate and/or violence towards members of a particular race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or minority group(s).

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