Tuesday January 22, 2019
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Online Hate Thriving Even After The Recent Hate Crime In The U.S.

The commitment to eradicating hate from platforms is not always matched by the ability to do so because there is just so much content out there.

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Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
Flowers surround signs on Oct. 31, 2018, part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services. VOA

A website popular with racists that was used by the man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was shut down within hours of the slaughter, but it hardly mattered: Anti-Semites and racists who hang out in such havens just moved to other online forums.

On Wednesday, four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, anonymous posters on another website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site’s operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric was just as bad on another site popular with white supremacists, The Daily Stormer, where a headline said: “Just go, Jews. You’re not welcome.”

Trying to stop the online vitriol that opponents say fuels real-world bloodshed is a constant battle for groups that monitor hate, and victories are hard to come by. Shut down one platform like Gab, where the shooting suspect posted a message shortly before the attack, and another one remains or a new one opens.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
Flowers surround Stars of David on Oct. 31, 2018, part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services Saturday in Pittsburgh., VOA

The problem dates back to the dawn of the internet, when users connected their computers to each other by dialing telephone numbers. A report issued by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League in 1985 found there were two online “networks of hate” in the United States, both run by neo-Nazis who spread anti-Semitic, racist propaganda.

Today, the vastness of the online world is a big part of the problem, said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center for Extremism. Determining how many hate sites exist is nearly impossible, he said.

“It’s really difficult to put an actual number on it, but I would say this: There are thousands of hate sites and there are dozens and dozens of platforms in which hate exists,” Segal said.

A new study by the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, composed of academic researchers who study online extremism, said the exact number of far-right adherents on just one platform, Twitter, is impossible to determine. But at least 100,000 people and automated accounts are aligned with radicals commonly referred to as the “alt-right,” the study found, and the true number is probably more than twice that.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
A sign during a protest gathering on the block of the Jewish Community Center in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where the funeral for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. VOA

An ADL report released a day before the shooting said extremists had increased anti-Semitic harassment against Jewish journalists, political candidates and others ahead of the midterm elections. Researchers who analyzed more than 7.5 million Twitter messages from Aug. 31 to Sept. 17 found almost 30 percent of the accounts repeatedly tweeting derogatory terms about Jews appeared to be automated “bots” that spread the message further and faster than if only people were involved.

The New York-based ADL said that before the 2016 election of President Donald Trump anti-Semitic harassment was rare, but afterward it became a daily occurrence. It commissioned a report in May that estimated about 3 million Twitter users posted or re-posted at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in English over a 12-month period ending Jan. 28.

Gab shutdown

The story of Gab, the platform where Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly wrote an ominous message early Saturday before the shooting, shows how new sites spring up in a hate-filled environment.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. VOA

Created in 2016 to counter what founder Andrew Torba viewed as liberal censorship on social networks, Gab gained popularity among white supremacists and other right-wing radicals after tech companies clamped down on racist sites following the deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Daily Stormer was offline briefly after the violence but re-emerged on a new host.

With Gab now shut down after the synagogue shooting, Torba is portraying the platform not as a hate-filled corner of the internet, but as a bastion of free speech that’s working with federal authorities “to bring justice to an alleged terrorist.”

A message posted by Torba said Gab was trying to get back online, and Segal has few doubts it will succeed.

Don Black, the former Klan leader who runs Stormfront, said traffic is up partly because of the Gab shutdown and partly because of increased interest among users. His site, which has been in operation since 1995 and has about 330,000 registered users, has only had one “prolonged” shutdown — a month following the Charlottesville melee, he said.

“I expect all sorts of more trouble now because of the Pittsburgh shooting,” Black said.

Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
A mother and her child arrive to place flowers at a spontaneous memorial of flowers and sidewalk writing a block from the Tree of Life Synagogue. VOA

Free speech

Purging hateful content from the internet is a challenge. The Constitution’s guarantee of free-speech provides a roadblock to banning hate speech in the United States, according to the First Amendment Center, a project of the Washington-based Freedom Forum Institute.

“Political speech receives the greatest protection under the First Amendment, and discrimination against viewpoints runs counter to free-speech principles. Much hate speech qualifies as political, even if misguided,” said an essay by center scholar David L. Hudson Jr. and Mahad Ghani, a fellow with the center.

Some advocate other tactics for curbing hate.

Three days before the synagogue attack, a coalition that includes the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization that monitors hate groups, released a proposed framework aimed at social media companies.

The plan is geared around a model terms-of-service policy that states that platform users “may not use these services to engage in hateful activities or use these services to facilitate hateful activities engaged in elsewhere.” Next year, sponsors plan to begin posting report cards showing how sites are doing at quelling hate speech.

Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
Monks pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. VOA

No company has publicly announced plans to adopt the coalition’s guidelines, but Segal said the ADL separately has talked with several social media companies about limiting hate speech. Companies have been welcoming but solutions remain elusive, he said.

Also Read: Guilty Plea For The Pittsburgh Shooting Suspect

Segal added: “The commitment to eradicating hate from platforms is not always matched by the ability to do so because there is just so much content out there.” (VOA)

Next Story

The Great U.S. Government Shutdown

The Senate stands at an impasse while the nation collapses around it.

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U.S., Shutdown
The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen beyond a chain fence during the partial government shutdown in Washington, Jan. 8, 2019. VOA

By Vishvi Gupta

The partial shutdown of the Government of the United States has now entered Day 31. With as many as 800,000 federal employees furloughed, the entire nation remains in a turmoil due to the longest government shutdown in the history of United States.

The shutdown which started on December 22 of 2018, due to the disagreement of United States Congress and the President Of United States on ‘Border Security Funding’  has followed us well into 2019 and still has bleak chances of ending.

President Donald Trump remains undeterred in his conquest to get the funding for wall, no matter who pays for it, it seems. In a tweet and several different speeches, during the presidential election race of 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that “Mexico will pay for the wall”. However, he now demands almost $5Bn from the taxpayers of the country.

The country’s senate remains at an impasse and the only ones affected? The people.

Thousands of federal employees joined hands in protests and social media to share their stories of how exactly the shutdown is affecting them. Many employees have had to set up Gofundme donation websites to get by or to meet their basic needs. The shutdown led the hastag, ‘#ShutdownStories’ trend on twitter. Even students who rely on free or reduced fee meals at school are impacted. The lunch menus at schools are being revised so as to conserve food and funding.

As the shutdown drags on, it sees many businesses also take a hit. Mohammad Badah, a local falafel street vendors who saw a steep fall in his sales said,” Usually I do in this area, like 60-70 customers, so far I did like 19 customers today.” Badah can now afford to operate only one of his two trucks.

Also Read: U.S. Senate Stays Divided Over Trump’s Immigration Deal

Meanwhile, there is no budging on the democratic or republican side. President Donald Trump proposed a deal to the democrats in which he backs away from a simple demand for border funding and now offers a 3 year extension of the program for refugees and immigrants who came to America illegally as minors, also called ‘Dreamers.’ Democrats, however rejected this deal saying that Donald Trump’s proposal is “unacceptable” and said the president’s proposal was “not a good-faith effort.”

The Senate stands at an impasse while the nation collapses around it.