Wed, May. 03, 2006

Hate Speech on the Net

CB - Washington.   On May 1, 2006, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation organized a panel discussion about racist extremism on the Internet and its growing appeal to young users. At the Washington forum, the panel comprised author Daniel Levitas, Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee, Dietmar Molthagen of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation project against racist extremism and Stephen Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to Molthagen the rightist potential in Germany lies between 10% and 15% of the population. Of the some 1000 hate speech sites, 80% are hosted abroad, mainly in the United States. The number remains constant, while the sites are getting more professional. Some portals provide mail order services, market places for music and clothing with fascist themes as well as means to mobilize political parties and to improve international networking among extremists.

In Germany, freedom of speech is subject to constitutional limitations. §130 of the Criminal Code, Strafgesetzbuch, outlaws approval, denial and belittlement of crimes in Nazi Germany. §86a prohibits the use of Nazi symbols. §86 penalizes the distribution of propaganda material by unconstitutional organizations.

Enforcement of these provisions forced more than 500 rightist extremism websites offline. By contrast, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused the enforcement of European judgments against websites containing hate speech in Yahoo v. LICRA et al.

German law contains blanket prohibitions for specific content, whereas American law tends to outlaw inciting speech restrictively, for instance at theaters and schools. The panelists acknowledged the differing approaches which they did not appear to be able to reconcile.

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