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Jung-Sook Lee Competition
Hate Speech, First Amendment Ideology, and the World Wide Web
A Jewish-American businessman was shocked to discover Google's top-matching
website for his key-word search ("Jew") was JewWatch.com, a virulent
His subsequent campaign to convince Google to eliminate the site from
launched a public controversy. This paper examines Google's claims
that their searchengine
technology does not reflect their values, as well as the
ramifications of national
ideologies on the international medium of the Internet
Hate Speech, First Amendment Ideology,
and the World Wide Web
In April of 2004, Google.com, one of the most popular internet search
the world, found itself embroiled in a public controversy about
Passover, one of the most holy weeks in the Jewish calendar.
The dispute originated in March when Steven M. Weinstock, a Jewish-American
businessman, did a Google internet search using the search word
"Jew." The top-ranked
result which Google displayed for his search was www.JewWatch.com,
the online home
of Jew Watch, an anti-Semitic hate group
Jew Watch's homepage defines the organization's mission as "keeping a close
watch on Jewish communities and organizations worldwide." The site provides
"scholarship and research" to support its claims that international
Jewry is engaged in a
conspiracy to rule the world and destroy all non-Jews. According to
League, "The site is run by Frank Weltner, who also uses the online
Goldstein Mohammed' and 'Couch Potato.'"1
The extensive site is divided into many subtopic pages which link to dozens of
articles. Much of the content is provided by linking to webpages of
other anti-Semitic or
racist groups, such as www.Stormfront.org, the "White Nationalist
maintained by Stormfront, a self-described "white pride" organization
states it is engaged in "planning strategies" designed "to preserve
"Google Search Ranking of Hate Sites not Intentional," Anti-Defamation League
Update, www.adl.org, April 22, 2004; accessed May 5, 2004.
The subtopic page-link titles on Jew Watch's homepage include: Jewish World
Conspiracies; Jewish Atrocities; Jewish Mind Control Mechanisms;
Jewish Genocides [categorizing Jews as perpetrators of genocide, not
Media Lies; Jewish Banking and Financial Manipulations. There is a
section that lists
famous Christians who were supposedly murdered by Jews (including
Jesus Christ and
Saint Paul), a section about governments supposedly controlled by
Jews (including the
Vatican), a section about "Jewish Hate Groups" (including the
American Civil Liberties
Union and the Anti-Defamation League), and a section about
organizations with a
supposedly Jewish agenda (including the National Association for the
Colored People and the National Organization for Women).
The section on "Jewish References and Documents" links to a site which
reproduces The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a well-known hoax
from the early 20th
century which purports to prove that Jews plan to overthrow Christian
site presents Protocols as a valid document rather than as a forgery
written by an anti-
Semite. The section on "Jewish Leaders, Conspirators, and Power Lords" attacks
politicians, feminists, scientists, writers, publishers, and
businesses. According to Jew
Watch, entertainment and news media are also controlled by Jews; the
site links to an
article which states:
Once we have absorbed and understood the fact of Jewish media
control, it is our inescapable responsibility to do whatever is
necessary to break that control. We must shrink from nothing in
combating this evil power that has fastened its deadly grip on our
people and is injecting its lethal poison into their minds and
souls. If we fail to destroy it, it certainly will destroy our race.2
"Who Rules America?: The Alien Grip on Our News and Entertainment Media
Must Be Broken," National Vanguard Magazine (Hillsboro, West
Virginia: last updated
Internet user Steven Weinstock, a former yeshiva3 student, was so
appalled to find
JewWatch.com as the top-ranked site in his Google search that he
launched an online
petition asking Google to remove the site from its index. Conducting
his public opinion
campaign through a website which he established for this purpose,
www.RemoveJewWatch.com, Weinstock collected more than 100,000 electronic
signatures for his petition.4
Google, however, refused to remove JewWatch.com from its index or to lower the
site's ranking in relevant searches. Google spokesman David Krane
search results are solely determined by computer algorithms that
popular opinion on the Web. Our search results are not manipulated by
hand. We're not
able to make any manual changes to the results."5 Sergey Brin, one of
founders, countered accusations that Google was anti-Semitic by
pointing out that he
himself is Jewish, and said, "I certainly am very offended by the
but the objectivity of our rankings is one of our very important
principles... We don't let
our personal views—religious, political, ethical, or otherwise—affect
However, Google did respond to the controversy by posting their own
link to the
search results wherein www.JewWatch.com appears. The Google link, entitled
July 2001); article online at
via www.JewWatch.com June 10, 2004.
3 A yeshiva is a Jewish school which combines secular and religious studies.
According to the website, http://www.RemoveJewWatch.com, there were 125,499
names on the petition as of June 10, 2004.
David Becker, "Google Slammed for Anti-Semitic Research," www.Silicon.com,
April 7, 2004; accessed June 9, 2004.
"Site Offends But Stays: Google Won't Remove Anti-Semitic Pages From Search
Results," Winnipeg Sun (Manitoba, Canada), April 18, 2004.
"Offensive Search Results," links the user to a page in which Google
controversy and concludes:
Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google
cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit
are those we are legally compelled to remove or those
maliciously attempting to manipulate our results.
We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had
using Google and appreciate your taking the time to inform us
Petitioner Steven Weinstock, who was dissatisfied with Google's decision,
responded on www.RemoveJewWatch.com, where he also refuted
allegations that he had
violated the principles of the First Amendment:
I am a big believer in the First Amendment, and I believe that a
site like JewWatch.com has a right to exist, regardless of how
horrific it is. I just don't feel that a site like this should justify the
No. 1 spot on Google. The fact that Google is the biggest internet
brand acts like a "seal of approval," and even though I am
grateful that Google added a disclaimer to the results it provides,
I feel that is not good enough.8
As of this writing, the situation remains unchanged. The case raises
a number of
interesting questions: Can protecting hate speech be ethical? Is
Google's search engine
free of ethical ramifications? Are there, or should there be,
internet-specific ethics for a
case like this?
www.Google.com/explanation, accessed May 5, 2004.
8 Letter from Steven M. Weinstock, www.RemoveJewWatch.com, May 4, 2004;
accessed June 8, 2004.
How A Google Search Works
Google spokesman David Krane has stated that the high ranking of
www.JewWatch.com in certain searches is the result of "a complex set
of algorithms that
measure several factors."9 However, Krane's statement that Google
cannot make manual
changes to results seems to contradict the Google explanation-page
statement on the Web
which indicates that Google removes sites from its system if "legally
compelled" to do
so or if the site in question attempts to "manipulate" search results.
The phrase "a complex set of algorithms" may be an epistemological obstacle to
anyone who remembers his high school algebra classes with mingled despair and
loathing. And the facts are not made any clearer by the evident
Krane's statement that Google is "not able to make any manual changes
to the results"
and Google's indication that it does do so under certain specific
So how does a Google search work?
An algorithm is a mathematical method of solving certain kinds problems. The
problem which Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attempted to solve by
developing a program called PageRank was: Computer search engines were good at
indexing millions of web pages, but bad at deciding which of those
pages were relevant
to a given search.
Google's PageRank is a system for ranking web pages by using the web's link
structure as an indicator of an individual page's importance. Google
technology on the pages of its own site: "In essence, Google
interprets a link from page A
"Google Finds Itself In Controversy," UPI/WashingtonTimes.com, April 7, 2004.
to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B."10 The more that other
sites link to (or "vote
for") page B, the more "important" page B appears to PageRank.
PageRank also takes
into account the "importance" (on the same basis) of the sites
linking to page B. "Votes
cast by pages that are themselves 'important' weigh more heavily and
help to make other
Of course, this "importance" means nothing to an internet user unless
to his search. So Google combines PageRank with text-matching
techniques to find pages
that are relevant to the user's search as well as "important."
"Google goes far beyond the
number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of
the page's content
(and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a
good match for your
Google runs relevant ads alongside search results, but it does not
within the results; in other words, no can buy a higher ranking.
The commercial relevance of this system is somewhat comparable to retail
placement for physical products. For example, a new novel shelved in
the general fiction
section of a bookstore typically has extremely modest sales. The same
novel is likely to
experience much better sales if stocked on a promotional table for
several weeks; and its
sales are very likely to be substantially greater if it's stocked in
a heavily-trafficked area
of the bookstore in its very own promotional display case (known as a "dump").
Similarly, a web user is far more likely to link to a site ranked
first or second in a Google
search than to a site ranked 80th or 500th in the same search,
because the user is likely to
www.google.com/technology; accessed May 10, 2004.
Ibid. See also Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, Google Hacks (Sebastopol, CA:
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 2003), 294-297.
see and use the highest ranked results, and likely either to have
been satisfied or to have
quit his quest before seeing (let alone linking to) the lowest ranked
results. It's estimated
that roughly 15%-35% of all queries typed into search engines are
commercial; in other
words, someone looking up information on Google may well be
there are some obvious advantages in a business (for example) having
a very high
ranking in Google searches.
Optimization and Bombing
There's so much interest among website-owners and web-based businesses in
getting their own sites to come up on the first page of a Google
search that there are now
companies which make money advising them how to do that, such as
KeywordRanking.com. Two processes of improving a site's chances of
getting a high
ranking in a Google search are known as "search engine optimization"
Google (or "gaming" it).14
Bombing Google involves setting up a large number of web pages that all have
links to (for example) webpage B, thereby fulfilling a major search
requirement of the
Google algorithm formula for giving page B a high ranking. This
method is typically
used by non-commercial individuals or groups, but it could feasibly become a
Optimization is another method by which a website's contents can be
Rick Karr, "How the Internet Is Changing Advertising [transcript]," Morning
Edition, National Public Radio, April 14, 2004.
See Rick Karr, "How Unscrupulous Companies Can Manipulate Results of A
Google Search To Edge Out Their Competitors [transcript]," Morning
Public Radio, April 15, 2004.
See www.wordspy.com/words/googlebombing; accessed June 7, 2004.
improve its ranking in a Google search result. It combines a system
of keyword usage
with linking. For example, a KeywordRanking.com client wanted to use
"onsite processing" on its website to define its services. However,
determined that this phrase would ensure a low ranking, because
internet users searching
for the kind of services the client offered were actually using the
search phrase "one-hour
photo shops." So KeywordRanking.com modified the client's website in
detail to ensure
substantial use of the phrase most likely to improve its relevance in
keyword searches and
thereby improve its ranking in Google searches.16
According to the Anti-Defamation League: "The longevity of ownership, the
way articles are posted to it, the links to and from the site, and
the structure of the
site itself all increase the ranking of 'JewWatch' within the Google
And Seth Finkelstein, who maintains a website called
Ironically, all the controversy has probably raised the
JewWatch.com site rank and relevance within Google's
algorithms. For a while, the site lost its service provider and
dropped in ranking. But then—very predictably—came
back, around April 22 ...
Google ranks popularity, not authority. And popularity is a
measure which is vulnerable to many games. Any system of
evaluation is subject to manipulation.18
Indeed, as Finkelstein remarks, authority is a different measure than
See Karr, "How Unscrupulous Companies Can Manipulate Results."
17 "ADL Praises Google for Responding to Concerns About Rankings of
Anti-Defamation League Press Release, www. adl.org, April 22, 2004;
accessed June 12,
18 Seth Finkelstein, "Jew Watch, Google, and Search Engine Optimization," Seth
Finkelstein's Anticensorware Investigations; www.sethf.com/
anticensorware/google/jew-watch.php, May 4, 2004; accessed June 9, 2004.
popularity—and authority is much more difficult to rank with a computer
program. Matthew Hindman of Harvard University's Kennedy School of
Government points out that websites get a high Google ranking because
most popular sites that contain a search's keyword phrases, not because they
necessarily contain trustworthy information. Hindman has coined the phrase
"Googlearchy" for this phenomenon. He says, "Simply because content is popular
doesn't always mean it's good."19
The site owner of JewWatch.com has not publicly admitted (or denied)
optimizing his site or bombing Google, nor has he publicly commented on
suggestions that he might have done so. It is possible that he
results, but it is also possible that his site merely benefited from Google's
algorithmic formula. Google itself attributes the controversial JewWatch.com
ranking to the keyword search, insisting that the word "Jew" (the
results in a top ranking for JewWatch.com) is often used in an anti-Semitic
context. Google states that the word "Jew" is "somewhat charged
and that, "Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more
likely to enter terms like 'Judaism,' 'Jewish people,' or 'Jews' than
the single word
Whether Google is right about the word "Jew" being linguistically charged
(a claim which seems questionable), there is clearly a difference in
Rick Karr, "Next Frontier for Search Engines [transcript]," Morning Edition,
National Public Radio, April 16, 2004.
www.google.com/explanation; accessed May 5, 2004.
results when Googling "Jews" compared to Googling "Jew." JewWatch.com is not
ranked anywhere within the top 100 Google search results for the
whereas (as of June 12, 2004) it ranks fourth in a Google search for
Values and Technology
Just as website owners can manipulate Google search results through bombing,
gaming, and optimization, so can Google, despite Google spokesman
statement to the contrary, manipulate the results.
When and why does Google do so?
Krane, in fact, changed his statement (or was quoted differently) in
interview, saying, "Unless [a web page] violates a country or local
law, we don't make
any tweaks."21 For example, Google has removed sites from its index
if they deal with
illegal activities, such as pedophilia,22 and the San Francisco
Chronicle reports that
Google is required to remove all pro-Nazi sites from its index in
in 2002, Google removed links to websites which were critical of the Church of
Scientology, on the grounds that those sites contained material that
Changing Google's search results to cooperate with law enforcement (or with
21 "Site Offends But Stays: Google Won't Remove Anti-Semitic Pages From Search
Results," Winnipeg Sun (Manitoba, Canada), April 18, 2004.
22 Ibid. See also, "It's Not Google's Fault That Hate Sells," The Pitt News
(Pittsburgh), April 14, 2003.
Verne Kopytoff, "Google Revisits Policy On Hate Sites," San Francisco
Chronicle, April 23, 2004.
legal pressure) represents imposing values on Google's mathematical
search formula, as
does removing any site which "maliciously" attempts to manipulate
Moreover, the controversy surrounding the ranking of JewWatch.com clearly
brought values to bear on the Google search formula. Google
co-founder Sergey Brin
wrote a letter to the Anti-Defamation League in which he explained
technical modifications Google was considering, including displaying
"category tags and
other auxiliary information" alongside search results.24 Google
spokesman David Krane
told the press he would suggest to Google's engineers that they
refine the search
algorithm, which might alter the findings for the term "Jew."25
Indeed, by linking its own
explanation and apology to search results for JewWatch.com, the
owners of Google are
assigning values to the search. Steven M. Weinstock was offended by
the search results,
but presumably anti-Semites who perform an identical search on Google
and get identical
search results are not offended by the results—though they may well
be offended by
Google having broken precedent to explain and apologize for the
search results. After all,
an anti-Semite who types the word "Jew" into Google may well be
looking for a site
exactly like JewWatch.com.
Yet despite attaching a link to the search results to explain and
them, and despite evidently investigating how to lower the ranking of
the algorithm formula, Google has not removed and says it will not remove
JewWatch.com from its index. Entering the keyword "Jew" into Google's
still brings up JewWatch.com as a high-ranked search result and will
do so for the
Joe Eskenazi, "Googling Anti-Semitism," JewishJournal.com (no date); accessed
June 7, 2004.
First Amendment Ideology
Google's position on this controversy is closely associated with its
identity as an
American company, though it operates worldwide.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits Congress from preventing
the establishment of a religion or prohibiting practice thereof, from
abridging the freedom
of speech or of the press, from preventing peaceful public assembly,
and from interfering
with the people's right to petition the government for redress of
literally phrased in terms that limit the power of Congress, the
represents a key principle which guides public discourse in the
United States: the notion
of freedom of expression. And within the US, the phrases freedom of
speech, freedom of
expression, and First Amendment rights tend to be used interchangeably.26
In American political ideology, freedom of expression is considered
vital to the
informed self-government of a people. Most American free-speech
that freedom of expression facilitates discovery of the truth and
worth and dignity. The tenet of free expression which may be most
among Americans is that there is no group or organization which can
be trusted with the
power of limiting our right to communicate.27
The United States Supreme Court has upheld freedom of expression rights in all
but a few circumstances. The Court has traditionally recognized a
"hierarchy" of speech.
See Douglas M. Fraleigh and Joseph S. Tuman, Freedom of Speech in the
Marketplace of Ideas (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 1-5.
High value speech includes, for example, any expression of political
ideas or religious
beliefs, and the Court consistently rules that such speech is
protected by the First
Amendment. Advertising is an example of speech which is considered to be of
intermediate value. Low value speech, sometimes called "categorical
exceptions" to the
First Amendment, has been held to be subject to regulation. The
doctrine holds that certain categories of speech do not merit First
because they make no contribution to knowledge, the quest for truth,
or the issues
confronting society. Defamation, obscenity, and fighting words are examples of
The categorical exceptions doctrine is only relevant to public
discourse. It cannot
be applied, for example, to a person who uses obscene language in
private life (which
many Americans do). However, FCC regulations prohibiting nudity or
words in public broadcasts, for example, are not (necessarily)
neither public nudity nor publicly using obscene words is entitled to
protection under the categorical exceptions doctrine. However, not
all Americans agree
with all interpretations of categorical exceptions, and so some lower
which limit free speech on the basis of categorical exceptions
continue to be challenged
all the way to the Supreme Court. Additionally, the courts'
interpretations of defamation,
and particularly of obscenity and fighting words, have often been so
subjective that there
is still considerable public and legal dispute in the US over whether
various forms of
expression are illegal, as well as dispute over whether they should
or should not be
illegal. Moreover, the Supreme Court occasionally overturns its own
past decisions. For
all of these reasons, categorical exceptions to First Amendment
protection continue to be
the subject of a kinetic debate in American free expression ideology.
One of the most controversial free speech issues in American society
is the one
relevant to JewWatch.com. It is an issue on which the US differs with
most other freespeech
nations: the protection of hate speech.
The term "hate speech" refers to speech which insults, reviles, or
ridicules a group
of people based on their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, national
economic condition, or sexual orientation.29 Declaring that
homosexuals are a plague on
humanity or that blacks are less intelligent than white people are
both examples of hate
speech. To give another example, white racist leader Billy Roper was
recently quoted in
Newsweek as saying, "Anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a
building to kill Jews
is alright by me."30
Hate speech is usually defined as attacking immutable
which individuals did not choose and cannot change, such as gender or
than, for example, political affiliation or chosen profession.
Therefore, declaring that
pollsters are a plague on humanity or that Democrats are less
intelligent than Republicans
would not be classified as hate speech. Nor would jokes in which
lawyers wind up
chained to the bottom of the ocean floor.
The rhetoric of JewWatch.com is typical of anti-Semitic hate speech.
In the ethos
Ibid., 170. See also Charles Levendosky, "Internet Hate Speech Should Not Be
Restricted," in Hate Groups:Opposing Viewpoints, ed. Mary E. Williams
Hills, Michigan: Greenhaven Press, 2004), 169.
Rebecca Sinderbrand, "A Racist On the Rise," Newsweek, May 10, 2004, 38.
of anti-Semites, Jews are racially and morally inferior to "white"
people and are bent on
the destruction of the Christian "race" so that they can dominate the
insist that Jews murdered Jesus Christ, that Jews are inherently
dishonest, that Jews
control national and international wealth and actively prevent
"white" people from getting
good jobs or a fair shake. Articles linked to JewWatch.com accuse
Jews of numerous
mass murders of Christians, of blackmailing governments, of
controlling the American
economy, and of inventing the Holocaust. (A common post-World War II
form of anti-
Semitic hate speech, often known as "Holocaust denial," is the claim
that Jews made up
or wildly exaggerated the Holocaust in order to evoke undeserved sympathy and
blackmail governments. Holocaust denial is illegal in France and Germany.)
To hate a whole group of human beings—all Jews, all blacks, all Muslims, all
Americans, all homosexuals—one cannot see them as individuals.
Consequently, one of
the primary functions of hate speech is to dehumanize its target and
to desensitize its
listeners to the targets' individual humanity.31
In The Language of Oppression, Haig Bosmajian described the anti-Semitic
language of Nazi Germany as Schlagworte, or "hitting words," language
used to dull the
listener's critical abilities because the listener is "hit" or
"struck," or even "beaten" by the
words and phrases. Some examples of Nazi Schlagworte are: contamination of our
people; Jewish bastardization; blood poisoning; racial
disintegration; black parasites; the
Jewish bacillus.32 Note the Schlagworte in just a portion of an
article linked to
JewWatch.com, as quoted earlier in this paper: evil power; deadly
grip; lethal poison;
Haig Bosmajian, The Language of Oppression (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs
Press, 1974), 6-10.
destroy our race.
Hitler described Jews as vipers and adders, as vermin, as a plague on
race." The Nazis characterized Jewish men as rapists of
"inexperienced blonde girls."
Jews were the "enemies of Germany." The standard phrase with which SS
Dachau asked for the name of an inmate's mother was: "Which Jew-whore shit you
out?"33 Note American white supremacist Billy Roper's comment, quoted
earlier in this
paper, indicating that mass murder is fine if Jews are the target.
Bosmajian wrote that Nazi propaganda combined the brutality of such language
with a kind of anti-Semitic mysticism designed to invoke fear:
The Nazis conjured up fantastic tales of Jewish demonology. It is
difficult to understand how they could have been taken seriously
by any intelligent, rational being, but Hitler was dealing with a
mentality susceptible to demons, dragons, and adders. According
to the anti-Semitic publication Der Stürmer, the Jew was the
demon who took blood from Aryan children and mixed it into his
wine and bread. Der Stürmer fabricated reports about Jews who
slaughtered Christians at the ritual celebrations of Passover.34
The anti-Semitism propagated by JewWatch.com is very similar to Hitlerian
propaganda. Indeed, Jew Watch favors some of the same texts that the
Nazis cited, such
as The Protocols of Zion. Most of Jew Watch's "scholarship and
research," however, is
more modern; presumably because the audience it seeks to engage—modern
Americans—do not share the same problems or cultural references as
who lived more than half a century ago and thousands of miles from
Such language had power in Hitler's time, and it has power now. According to
L.W. Sumner, a professor of philosophy and law at the University of
literature plays a direct role in maintaining or increasing the
membership of hate
groups.35 The internet, which has little content-regulation compared
to other forms of
mass communication, metaphorically provides an international
megaphone for "speakers"
and easy, anonymous access for "listeners," making it a particularly
for hate groups. Author Richard Firstman writes that although federal
statistics on hate
crimes in the US have remained steady over the past decade (at about
8,000 per year),
there has been a rise in the number of crimes committed by people
whose views were
either shaped or reinforced by hate literature they found on the internet.36
Protecting Hate Speech
The US spent nearly four years fighting Nazi Germany. After the war, the US
became home to a large number of Holocaust survivors. During the subsequent
generation, the country was torn apart by civil violence for a decade
during the Civil
Rights era and the overlapping era of the Vietnam War protests. The
terrorist attack in history—the destruction of the World Trade Center
killed more than 3,000 civilians—was fueled by hate-driven rhetoric,
rather than by a
quest for territorial gain or political domination. The American
experience ensures that
the nation is aware of the immense power of (some) ideas when put
into words and
shared with society.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court protects hate speech, and many Americans
L.W. Sumner, "Should Hate Speech Be free Speech? John Stuart Mill and the
Limits of Tolerance," in Liberal Democracy and the Limits of
Tolerance, ed. Raphael
Cohen-Almagor (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 144-145.
Richard Firstman, "White Supremacist Websites Foster Hatred," in Hate Groups,
(including, for example, Steven M. Weinstock) agree with this position.
However, one might reasonably argue that hate speech itself is not protected;
rather, hate speech in America could be described as a byproduct of
the Court's protection
of free expression under the First Amendment. If hate speech is
censored or suppressed,
then many other forms of speech would be in immediate danger.
"The purpose of free speech protection is to safeguard speech that the
government views as harmful," writes Nicholas Wolfson in Hate Speech,
Free Speech. "Any other approach would permit the government to be
the arbiter of what
ideas are safe."37 The First Amendment was crafted specifically to
stop the majority of us
from using the government to regulate speech we find offensive.38
Richard Moon, a
professor of law at the University of Windsor (Canada) argues:
A commitment to freedom of expression means protecting
expression for reasons more basic than our agreement with its
message—for reasons independent of its content. Protection
cannot be granted or denied to expression depending on whether
its message is objectionable to members of the community.39
In The Ethics of Cyberspace, Cees Hamelink reminds us that freedom of
expression means that everyone has the right to say things that
others do not want to
hear.40 In First Amendment ideology, the way to protect the free
speech rights of the
people you agree with is to support the free speech rights of the
people you don't agree
with. By adhering to this principle, we not only ensure a free
society, we also each
Nicholas Wolfson, Hate Speech, Sex Speech, Free Speech (Westport, CT: Praeger,
Mike Godwin, Cyber Rights (New York: Random House, Inc., 1998), 111.
Richard Moon, "The Regulation of Racist Expression," in Liberal Democracy and
the Limits of Tolerance, 189.
Cees J. Hamelink, The Ethics of Cyberspace (London: SAGE Publications, 2000),
protect our own right to express ourselves without censorship.
Abolitionism, desegregation, and female suffrage were all repellent ideas to a
large number of Americans at various points in the country's history;
yet those ideas were
heard because of First Amendment protection. Had free speech been
regulated by popular
opinion or censored on the basis of giving offense, those ideas could
not have been given
"When a chunk is carved out of the First Amendment," writes columnist Charles
Levendosky, "we all lose a portion of our rights as citizens."41
Eliminating hate speech on
the basis of the deep and abiding offense it inflicts on others would
commence a process
of censoring many diverse views—such as atheism, for example. Among
fundamentalists today, atheism is considered a more offensive and
than racism. And when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, many Americans
were hotly angry
about any expression of anti-war sentiments. To withdraw First
from speech, even from hate speech, on the basis of how much offense
it gives would be
to begin dismantling freedom of expression, including the expression
of religious and
Another tenet of First Amendment ideology is that freedom is compatible with
truth. "Upon what is our commitment to freedom of expression based,"
writes Moon, "if
not on a belief in human reason and its power to recognize truth?"42
Therefore, if hate
speech is based on myths, irrational fears, and illogical arguments,
a free society can
examine it and discard it. As prominent Democrat Hubert Humphrey once
said, the right
Charles Levendosky, "Internet Hate Speech Should Not be Restricted," in Hate
Moon, "The Regulation of Racist Expression," in Liberal Democracy and the
Limits of Tolerance, 189.
to be heard doesn't necessarily include the right to be taken seriously.
Diverse viewpoints (which includes viewpoints we don't want to hear)
for eventually discovering truth. One of the reasons Hitler's
myth-laden hate speech
became the public position of an entire society is that the Nazis,
even before they came to
power, were ruthless (and lawless) about silencing opposing views,
efficient at censoring and eliminating all other views once they were
in power. To state
an opposing viewpoint even in privacy in Nazi Germany often led to
detention in a
concentration camp or to execution. Nazi political supremacy and the
Holocaust did not
occur in a free speech society; and an important premise of First
Amendment ideology is
that it could not have occurred in a free speech society.
For this reason, Aryeh Neier, a Jewish activist, helped defend the freedom of
speech of a group of American Nazis when they wanted to march in
Skokie, Illinois. This
was a particularly controversial proposition due to Skokie having a
large population of
Holocaust survivors. In an article entitled "Freedom of Speech Can
Crimes," Neier writes about the genocides in Rwanda and in Serbia in
Radio Milles Collines [in Rwanda] had virtually a monopoly for
its hate-filled broadcasts. No contrary view had a chance to be
The state television and radio network [in Serbia], RTS, had a
monopoly on broadcasting and used it to stir up hate and to
The Rwandan and Serbian cases show why it is vital to defend
freedom of speech even in unpleasant circumstances, as the
ACLU did in Skokie... Freedom of speech is ultimately the
greatest protection against the crimes that took place in Rwanda
and in the former Yugoslavia, and against the crimes that [anti-
Semitic publisher] Julius Streicher was able to incite in Nazi
Germany. It is the exclusive capacity to communicate that
produces the link between incitement to violence and violence
Although many opponents of protecting hate speech suggest that it should be
considered low value speech under the categorical exceptions
doctrine, the Court protects
is as high value speech, as idea-based speech. Given the ignorance
which characterizes hate speech, this may seem surprising. However,
as Robert Berkman
and Christopher Shumway point out in Digital Dilemmas, one person's political
commentary is another's hate speech: "Many civil libertarians worry
interpreted and strictly enforced hate speech restrictions could
political discourse."44 Along these lines, Charles Levendosky offers
a powerful (if
chilling) of example of why hate speech has, and should continue to
have, the highest
First Amendment protection:
White supremacist David Duke, who was recently elected to lead
the Republican Party in the largest GOP parish in the state of
Louisiana, has a website that denigrates blacks. His political
stature is built on his racism. Certainly, his web page, hate and
all, is a political statement.45
Although First Amendment ideology prohibits the admittedly tempting path of
simply legislating against David Duke's and Jew Watch's rights to
promote their hatedriven
rhetoric in public discourse, it does offer a proactive solution:
"The best remedy
for bad speech is more speech," writes civil liberties lawyer Mike
Godwin.46 Steven M.
Aryeh Neier, "Freedom of Speech Can Prevent Hate Crimes," in Should There Be
Limits To Free Speech? ed. Laura K. Egendorf (Farmington Hills,
Press, 2003), 69.
Robert I. Berkman and Christopher Shumway, Digital Dilemmas: Ethical Issues
for Online media Professionals (Ames, Iowa; Iowa State Press, 2003), 146.
Levendosky, "Internet Hate Speech Should Not be Restricted," in Hate Groups,
Godwin, Cyber Rights, 113.
Weinstock collected more than 100,000 names on his internet petition
Google's ranking of JewWatch.com. Google broke precedent by writing
and apology which it links to these search results. The
Anti-Defamation League website
exposes and refutes common anti-Semitic myths and propaganda that get
posted on the
web. HateWatch.org is a civil rights website that offers information
about and advocacy
against online hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center also
monitors and writes
about online hate groups.
Additionally, free speech prohibits censorship, not choice. Your right to free
expression doesn't eliminate anyone else's right to ignore you or
refuse to listen to you.
Many institutions and individuals employ filtering software to
prevent e-hate from
reaching their computers via the internet. While there is an ethical
dilemma in public
institutions doing this, using filtering software in a private home
or business falls well
within the parameters theFirst Amendment; freedom of expression
cannot be regulated by
the government, but it can be regulated within a private home or business.
This is not to say that hate speech is disempowered by opposing
speech, or even
by the truth, nor that hate speech is devoid of harmful consequences.
As Godwin writes
in Cyber Rights, one of the reasons free speech has such value is
that words have real
power, actual consequences.47 In an article suggesting that
limitations on internet hate
speech may be necessary, Stanford University professor Laura Leets
expressions tend to encourage a set of beliefs that develop gradually
and that often can lie
dormant until conditions are ripe for... crimes against humanity."48
In fact, the Court does recognize some instances of hate speech as
the categorical exceptions doctrine. A detailed discussion of the
interpretations of "fighting words," the categorical exception
applied to hate speech when
it is not protected by the First Amendment, is beyond the scope of
this paper (and has
filled whole books). To summarize the Court's current position on
hate speech as a
categorical exception: The First Amendment protects hate speech
unless "the speech is
likely to incite immediate violence or constitutes a threat of
violence directed at a specific
person."49 This is a very specific standard for a hate speech case to
meet. In 1969, the
Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who
had given a
speech threatening vengeance against the government for supporting
legislation; the Supreme Court justices argued that the speech was
protected because it
advocated the idea of violent action without directly inciting violence.
The passage quoted earlier in this paper from an article linked to
is also protected under this precedent. It advocates the idea of
combating and destroying
alleged Jewish control of the media. It does not tell readers to go
kill a specific individual
or bomb a specific media business; such remarks would be "fighting
words" and would
not be entitled to First Amendment protection. It's possible that
advocating the idea of
taking vengeance against the government for civil rights or the idea
of combating socalled
Jewish media domination might result in action and consequences. However,
advocating ideas (however offensive or repellent) does not qualify as
Laura Leets, "Limited Restrictions On Internet Hate Speech May Be Necessary,"
in Should There Be Limits to Free Speech?, 62.
Berkman and Shumway, Digital Dilemmas, 141.
exception. Moon writes:
If some individuals are persuaded of certain views and act on
them, then we might say that the expression has "caused" the
action; but under most accounts of freedom of expression, the
state is not justified in restricting expression simply because it
causes harm in this sense—through persuasion.50
If the state began to restrict speech on the basis of what caused
censorship would soon include everything from diet fads to political activism.
Ultimately, the legal problem of regulating hate speech is the same
as the ethical
problem: Who gets to decide what ideas are too dangerous to express
in public discourse?
Whose yardstick will be used to regulate free speech? And how can one
doctrine, however ignorant or offensive, be eliminated from First
without opening the floodgate to eliminating many others? As Godwin
writes in Cyber
Rights: "In the long run, a society that emphasizes individual
freedom, even when that
freedom is sometimes used hurtfully, gives us far more than even the
law designed to free us from fear or discomfort ever can."51
As a privately owned business, Google could eliminate JewWatch.com from its
index without violating the First Amendment. As a mass media entity,
however, be violating the free expression ideology of the culture in
which it was founded
(and it would no doubt be advised of this, quickly and forcibly, by
Moon, "The Regulation of Racist Expression," Liberal Democracy and the Limits
of Tolerance, 188.
Godwin, Cyber Rights, 118.
An internet-specific complication of this case is the global nature
of the internet.
Berkman and Shumway write:
Speech issues that have not been easy to resolve in traditional
media are profoundly more complicated on the Internet; they are
also not likely to be neatly resolved anytime soon. Legal
boundaries are likely to appear on the Net where none existed
If anything, the absence of clear legal boundaries should invite
more dialogue about the values that underpin ethical
communications and the best practices for applying them on the
US law, governed by First Amendment ideology, allows broader free expression
than is the case in most other countries. Hate speech is illegal in a
number of other
countries, just as Holocaust denial is illegal in France and Germany.
Google and Yahoo,
Google's chief competitor, have both removed hate group websites from
their indices in
Germany and France, in observance of the laws in those countries.
Yahoo was also sued
in France for allowing the sale of Nazi merchandise on its auction
site. "On the internet,
the First Amendment is just a local ordinance," says Washington,
D.C., lawyer Robert
According to a Human Rights Watch policy paper, laws prohibiting hate speech
are justified on the grounds that they curb racial and ethnic
violence, "yet there is little
evidence that they achieve their stated purpose, and they have often
been subject to
Berkman and Shumway, Digital Dilemmas, 148-149.
Jason Krause, "Casting A Wide 'Net," ABA Journal, Vol. 88, Issue 11, November
2002. See also Amy Harmon, "Is A Do-Gooder Company A Good Thing?" New York
Times, May 2, 2004; and, David LaGesse, "The World According To
Google," US News
& World Report Vol. 136, No. 16, May 10, 2004, 44.
abuse."54 Since anti-Semitism has actually risen in Europe since
establishment of laws
prohibiting hate speech and Holocaust denial, it seems highly
questionable that these
laws achieve anything but a dangerous restriction on free expression.55
Rita Kirk Whillock and David Slayden, the authors of Hate Speech, write that
legal restrictions on hate speech only repress the symptoms, they
don't eliminate the
disease.56 Levendosky goes further:
Suppressing hate speech is more dangerous than allowing it to
exist. Like it or not, hate speech has a role to play in a nation
dedicated to vigorous debate about public issues.
If we come to a point in our history when we fear messages that
we despise, then we will have lost the strength and will to govern
ourselves. Or as the great First Amendment scholar Alexander
Meiklejohn put it so succinctly when testifying before Congress
in 1955, "To be afraid of any idea is to be unfit for selfgovernment."
Legal jurisdiction still tends to be based on concept of the nation
cultural backgrounds and political values have resulted in differing
legal systems, so that
what is legal—even admirable and ethical—in one nation is illegal
(and even unethical)
in another. 58 Consequently, when one types the keyword "Jew" into
the French or
German homepages for Google, JewWatch.com doesn't appear anywhere in
the top 100
Human Rights Watch Free Expression Project, "'Hate Speech' and Freedom of
Expression: A Human Rights Watch Policy Paper" (New York: March 1992), 2.
See "Shun Anti-Semitism," Newsday, May 3, 2004; Aliza Marcus, "As Attacks
Rise, 55 Nations Vow to Fight Anti-Semitism," Boston Globe, April 30,
Richard Bernstein, "European Security Group Takes Aim At
Anti-Semitism," New York
Times, April 29, 2004.
Rita Kirk Whillock and David Slayden, Hate Speech (Thousands Oaks, CA:
SAGE Publications, 1995), 260.
Levendosky, "Internet Hate Speech Should Not be Restricted," in Hate Groups,
58 Peter Dean, "Privacy and Censorship: Practical Issues in the Ethics of
Information," in Multimedia: A Critical Introduction, ed. Richard
Wise, with Jeanette
Steemers, (New York: Routledge, 2000), 144-145.
results. Google can and does change its results in accordance with
the values it chooses to
assign to its search technology, and even to vary those values from
country to country.
Until law, culture, and political values become as global as the
internet, this may be the
sort of compromise and techno-juggling which is required of internet
Berkman, Robert I., and Shumway, Christopher A. Digital Dilemmas:
Ethical Issues for
Online Media Professionals. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press, 2003.
Bosmajian, Haig A. The Language of Oppression. Washington, D.C.:
Calishain, Tara, and Dornfest, Rael. Google Hacks. Sebastapol, CA: O'Reilly &
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Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, ed. Liberal Democracy and the Limits of Tolerance. Ann
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Fraleigh, Douglas M., and Tuman, Joseph S. Freedom of Speech in the
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Godwin, Mike. Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age.
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Egendorf, Laura K., ed. Should There Be Limits to Free Speech?
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Publications, Inc., 1995.
Williams, Mary E., ed. Hate Groups: Opposing Viewpoints. Waterville,
Wolfson, Nicholas. Hate Speech, Sex Speech, Free Speech. Westport, Conecticut:
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