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Internet Firms Initiate Steps to Counter Online Hate speech and Incitements to Violence

Internet companies have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs over hate speech and other volatile social issues

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Daily Stormer
GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving joins the celebration during New York Stock Exchange opening bell ceremonies for his company's IPO, April 1, 2015. VOA
  • The internet domain registration of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was revoked twice in less than 24 hours
  • After GoDaddy revoked Daily Stormer’s registration, the website turned to Alphabet’s Google Domains
  • Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms have ramped up efforts to combat the social media efforts of Islamic militant groups, largely in response to pressure from European governments

The internet domain registration of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was revoked twice in less than 24 hours in the wake of the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a broad move by the tech industry in recent months to take a stronger hand in policing online hate speech and incitements to violence.

GoDaddy, which manages internet names and registrations, disclosed late Sunday via Twitter that it had given Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider, saying it had violated GoDaddy’s terms of service.

The white supremacist website helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist rally.

After GoDaddy revoked Daily Stormer’s registration, the website turned to Alphabet’s Google Domains. The Daily Stormer domain was registered with Google shortly before 8 a.m. Monday PDT (1500 GMT) and the company announced plans to revoke it at 10:56 a.m., according to a person familiar with the revocation.

As of late Monday, the site was still running on a Google-registered domain. Google issued a statement but did not say when the site would be taken down.

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Caught in the middle

Internet companies have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs over hate speech and other volatile social issues, with politicians and others calling on them to do more to police their networks while civil libertarians worry about the firms suppressing free speech.

Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms have ramped up efforts to combat the social media efforts of Islamic militant groups, largely in response to pressure from European governments. Now they are facing similar pressures in the United States over white supremacist and neo-Nazi content.

Facebook confirmed Monday that it took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Facebook allows people to organize peaceful protests or rallies, but the social network said it would remove such pages when a threat of real-world harm and affiliation with hate organizations becomes clear.

“Facebook does not allow hate speech or praise of terrorist acts or hate crimes, and we are actively removing any posts that glorify the horrendous act committed in Charlottesville,” the company said in a statement.

Several companies acted

Several other companies also took action. Canadian internet company Tucows stopped hiding the domain registration information of Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer. Tucows, which was previously providing the website with services masking Anglin’s phone number and email address, said Daily Stormer had breached its terms of service.

“They are inciting violence,” said Michael Goldstein, vice president for sales and marketing at Tucows, a Toronto-based company. “It’s a dangerous site and people should know who it is coming from.”

Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

Discord, a 70-person San Francisco company that allows video gamers to communicate across the internet, did not mince words in its decision to shut down the server of Altright.com, an alt-right news website, and the accounts of other white nationalists.

“We will continue to take action against white supremacy, Nazi ideology, and all forms of hate,” the company said in a tweet Monday. Altright.com did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Twilio Chief Executive Jeff Lawson tweeted Sunday that the company would update its use policy to prohibit hate speech. Twilio’s services allow companies and organizations, such as political groups or campaigns, to send text messages to their communities.

Arbiters of acceptable speech

Internet companies, which enjoy broad protections under U.S. law for the activities of people using their services, have mostly tried to avoid being arbiters of what is acceptable speech.

But the ground is now shifting, said one executive at a major Silicon Valley firm. Twitter, for one, has moved sharply against harassment and hate speech after enduring years of criticism for not doing enough.

Facebook is beefing up its content monitoring teams. Google is pushing hard on new technology to help it monitor and delete YouTube videos that celebrate violence.

All this comes as an influential bloc of senators, including Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, is pushing legislation that would make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking of women and children.

That measure, despite the noncontroversial nature of its espoused goal, was met with swift and coordinated opposition from tech firms and internet freedom groups, who fear that being legally liable for the postings of users would be a devastating blow to the internet industry. (VOA)

Next Story

Declining Crime Rate In US Is Now In ‘Reversed Direction’

After declining for more than two decades, the number of violent crime victims in the United States jumped by 22% over the past three years

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US, Crime, Growth, Risen, Violent, violence
In 90 per cent cases of crime against women, it has been observed that the accused is someone known to victims. Wikimedia Commons

After declining for more than two decades, the number of violent crime victims in the United States jumped by 22% over the past three years, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s statistics arm.

There were 3.3 million victims of violent crime in 2018, up from 2.7 million in 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey showed. The  annual survey was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The three-year rise was fueled by increases in the number of victims of rape and sexual assault, which jumped from 204,000 to 347,000; aggravated assault, which rose from 561,000 to 694,000; and simple assault, which grew 1.7 million to 2.1 million.

It is the third consecutive BJS survey to show an increase in the number of violent-crime victims and follows a 60% decline between 1994 and 2015, a period in which crime fell precipitously across the United States.

“The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years,” BJS statisticians Rachel Morgan and Barbara Oudekerk wrote in the report.

US, Crime, Growth, Risen, Violent, violence
A man wears an unloaded pistol during a pro gun-rights rally at the state capitol, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Gun rights supporters rallied across the United States to counter a recent wave of student-led protests against gun violence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) VOA

Counter to administration’s claims

The findings contradict the Trump administration’s assertion that it has helped halt a violent crime “epidemic” which it claims was fueled in part by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

The administration has made fighting violent crime a central focus of its domestic agenda, and officials have pointed to recent FBI crime statistics to take credit for a turnaround.

In prepared remarks to a public safety symposium in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday, Jon Adler, director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, said the administration has “hit our stride” in the fight against violent crime.

“After two years of alarming increase in the crime rate leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, our nation has turned a corner,” Adler said .  “This is a testament, not to some grand federal policy or initiative, but to the hard work and sharp focus of our nation’s front-line law enforcement officers.”

In February, the FBI reported a decline of 4.3% in violent crime during the first six months of 2018 on top of a slight decrease in 2017.  The drop came after an increase of 8% in violent crime in 2015 and 2016.  The FBI data is based on voluntary reporting by thousands of local police departments.

US, Crime, Growth, Risen, Violent, violence
The United States has committed to continue supporting Kenya in enhancing maritime surveillance, countering violent extremism and fighting terrorism. Pixabay

What this means

The recent increase in the crime rate was not as ominous as Trump administration officials claim, according to Andrew Wheeler, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. The long-term downtrend, however, appears to have plateaued, Wheeler said.

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“I think it’s sufficient to say that there’s good evidence that it’s been increasing the past couple years, because we have the different data sources that are basically all telling us that same information.  But whether or not the increases are alarming or substantive, I’m not sure if the evidence points to that,” Wheeler said.

While BJS statisticians say the recent data point to a reversal in falling violent crime, Wheeler said it is too early to draw any conclusions about long-term trends.

“I’m not real sure if the trend is basically meandering about its average and is going up and or down, or if it’s actually increasing or not,” said Wheeler said. (VOA)