For better or for worse, the power of the global Internet highlights the many complex trade-offs between freedom of speech and our right to protection from the spreading of vicious hatred, forcing us to examine how we, as a society, should go forward. Viral Hate looks squarely at how hate speech on the Internet challenges the premises and principles of the First Amendment, and makes thoughtful and considered recommendations as to how to deal with its potential dangers.
Abraham Foxman and Christopher Wolf are a talented team, two professionals who merged their Anti-Defamation League experience and their respective knowledge of privacy and Internet law to create cogent arguments for their position. In the book, they tackle a fearsome opponent — Internet propaganda — and reveal how the public can band together to fight the anti-Semites, racists, misogynists, and homophobes who use the Web to spread hatred and lies.
The unregulated flow of bigotry, they argue, presents a major threat to the society we live in, citing the propagation of cyber-bullying against teenagers and the existence of “Kill-a-Jew Day” as real-world examples of the grave dangers posed by unchecked technological use. Dangerous speech, they say, is both possible and easy on the Internet, a network that has no regulation and knows no borders, as governments are helpless to contain it or to legislate against the base sort of human nature that creates this behavior.
How to minimize the scope of hate speech? Foxman and Wolf have many ideas, including laws calling for stricter terms of service from Internet giants such as Google and Yahoo. But that’s not enough, they say. To put a stop to the spread of bigotry, individuals — teachers, parents, ordinary citizens — must become involved in protecting the principles of free expression and recognizing the dangers of censorship, while putting the brakes on the virus that is threatening to become an epidemic.
As a call to action, this book is strong. As an explanation as to why we need to act, it is even stronger. Once you read through the well-reasoned arguments and feel the intensity of the hatred that fuels the propaganda, you will grasp the dark side of the Internet as never before and understand clearly why this book is crucial. Index, notes.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.