Viral Hate: Con­tain­ing Its Spread on the Internet

Abra­ham H. Fox­man & Christo­pher Wolf
  • Review
By – December 9, 2013

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.

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