Anti-Defamation League develops 'hate' filter

Dear all,

Thought this might interest you.




November 11, 1998
New York Times on the Web

Rights Group Develops 'Hate' Filter

In an unusual move, a prominent nonprofit human rights group has developed
and will sell to the public an Internet filter that blocks access to
several hundred Web sites that it has determined advocate bigotry. 
The Anti-Defamation League unveiled the device, called the ADL HateFilter,
at its annual national meeting in Boston Wednesday morning. 

The venture is unusual because until now most Internet filters have been
created and marketed by companies. And although many of those products
allow users to block access to sites espousing intolerance, the devices are
used most commonly to screen out online pornography. 

The ADL filter bans sites that preach anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and
other forms of bigotry. Among the off-limits Web pages are Ku Klux Klan
sites; the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church's "God Hates Fags" site and the
white supremacist Aryan Nations site. 

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said
the group had undertaken the project to bring the 85-year-old
organization's experience in fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of
prejudice to the Internet. He said the group "stands with a certain
reputation and credibility on this subject" that for-profit filtering
companies do not have. 

Foxman said many hate Web sites employ sophisticated Internet technology,
like video and animation, that could appeal to young people. And the fact
that the sites appear on a screen gives the hate messages "a certain patina
of credibility," Foxman asserted, adding that Web sites are more insidious
than earlier forms of hate propaganda, because they enter households

"Hate out there is rampant," he said. "You used to have to make an effort
to get hate. Now it comes into your home unsuspected." 

Nonetheless, the ADL filter could well spark renewed debate about the flaws
of filters and, more fundamentally, whether the devices are appropriate
shields from offensive material online -- or high-tech censorship. 

Karen G. Schneider, a librarian who has written a book about filters, said
she believed the ADL effort was misguided, because, in her view, it sought
to fight prejudice with an electronic version of averting one's eyes. 

"I find it disturbing that the Anti-Defamation League thinks that the way
to prevent anti-Semitism is to hide it from the people who care about
anti-Semitism," she said, adding later: "There's nothing to make a bad idea
look silly like putting it out in the cold, hard light of day." 

But Foxman said it was appropriate for concerned parents to try to keep
hate speech from their doorstep. "If I as a parent decide I don't want
access to this or I don't want my child to have access to this, that's not
censorship, that's exercising my constitutional right," he said. 

Foxman added that the filter, which can be downloaded from an ADL Web site,
is aimed at homes and parents, but could end up being used by others, too.
"If a teacher decides to use it in the context of a school, that's their
business," he said. 

The list of banned sites was put together, and will be updated, by a team
at the ADL, which has been monitoring hate sites on the Internet for
several years and has published reports on the subject. 

But as of Tuesday, the device was not foolproof. When a user working on a
computer with the filter running tried to reach three sites likely to be
caught by the filter -- a Klan site, a skinhead site and a neo-Nazi site --
her access was blocked. But when she tried to reach a white nationalist
site called rahowa, an acronym for "racial holy war," although she was
denied entry to most of the site, she was still able to view the group's
home page. It contained a crude joke about Matthew Shepard, the gay college
student killed in Wyoming last month. 

Mark A. Edelman, a spokesman for the group, said that should not have
happened, and that he would look into the matter. Shortly thereafter the
user was unable to reach the rahowa home page. 

Jonathan Wallace, one of the founding members of the Censorware Project, a
group that opposes filtering, argued that filtering technology is still so
crude that it is always imperfect, and that it ends up either blocking
legitimate material, missing objectionable sites or both. "People market
these products as if they protect a child 100 percent," he said. "What if
it protects a child 40 percent?" 

Foxman conceded that there could be flaws with filters, but he defended the
device, saying, "It's still better than not having anything." 

When the filter is in place, a user who tries to call up a proscribed site
instead sees a page that says: "Hate Zone. Access Restricted." There is
also a button that, if pressed, transports the user to an ADL "Stop Hate"
Web site with information about bigotry. 

The filter rests on technology developed by Cyber Patrol, a popular
filtering product made by the Learning Company in Cambridge, Mass. It costs
$29.95 for the first three months, and another $29.95 for every year's use
thereafter. An ADL spokeswoman said the fee was meant to offset the costs
of developing and maintaining the filter, not to generate a profit. 

Related Sites
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Anti-Defamation League HateFilter

The Censorware Project <>

ADL's Stop Hate site <>

Cyber Patrol <>


Pamela Mendels at <> welcomes your comments and

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