.. ered to remove their web page from the Internet. In addition Stormfront, Inc., the Internet company that provided ALPHA HQ its domain name service, was also named in the case and was ordered not to provide any more service. Wilson did not contest the charges and the site was removed from the Internet. This case set a precedent where a judge ordered a Web site to be shut down because the information on it was harmful.
The Brandenburg standard makes it hard to punish online hate speech. Indeed, the call for lawless action can be proved but the imminent action resulting from it is hard to demonstrate. Thus, on the Internet people can post messages on bulletin board, for instance, calling for action, but as long as the message does not provoke violent reactions, it will be protected. Regardless, when a person is targeted because of race, religion or sexual orientation the perpetrator can face enhanced penalty. If there is evidence that a racist thought, for instance, led to a racist assault, as in Wisconsin v. Mitchell, and that the victim was picked according to his/her race, the statement receives no First Amendment protection. The same is true for hateful views expressed on the Internet.
VI. Internet Service Provider’s liability: The Communication Decency Act In an attempt to protect children from indecent material, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1996 as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It made it a crime to send or display “obscene or indecent” material to minors on the Internet. As President Clinton signed the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged it. In 1997, the Supreme Court had its first case about cyberspace, Reno v.
American Civil Liberty Union. The CDA was declared too broad, since it banned offensive material, in general. The Court had to admit that the Internet was a unique medium that could not be regulated like broadcasting. However, the provisions included by Congress concerning the liability of Internet Service Providers remained unchanged. The section states that: “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Because hate speech on the Internet needs to be posted on a Web site, which in turns has to be hosted by a provider, the question of ISP’s liability is important.
Even in cases involving child pornography, libel and defamation the provider America Online was not found legally actionable by the courts. VII. AOL Case Study The service provider America Online (AOL) was involved in tree major cases, where Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which prohibit Internet Service Providers to be held responsible for the content of messages posted on their network, was upheld. In 1994, Richard Russell photographed and videotaped John Doe (fictive name) and two other minors engage in sexual activity with each other and with him. He then used an America Online (AOL) bulletin board to sell the photos and videotapes, without actually showing the images on the Internet.
In 1997, John Doe’s mother, Jane Doe (fictive name), sued Russell and AOL, asking the court to order Russell and/or AOL to pay her and her son $8 million to compensate them for their emotional injuries. In Doe v. America Online, Jane Doe claimed that AOL was negligent because it knew that Russell and other pedophiles used AOL to market and distribute child pornographic materials. The issue in this case was “whether a computer service provider with notice of a defamatory third party posting is entitled to immunity under section 230 of the CDA.” AOL asked the trial court to dismiss Doe’s complaint, arguing that AOL has immunity from this lawsuit under a federal statute and the Court ruled in the ISP’s favor. In Blumenthal v.
Drudge , Matt Drudge, a cyber-columnist, wrote an article about domestic violence between Sydney Blumenthal (an aide of President Clinton) and his wife. Although Drudge retracted the story and apologized, Blumenthal filled a libel suit against him and AOL. In spite of the fact that the article was posted on Drudge’s site within AOL’s network and the U.S. District Court judge dismissed AOL from the suit, because it was protected by Section 230 of the DCA. In Zeran v.
America Online, the issue was whether AOL would be held liable for being slow to remove a series of allegedly defamatory messages posted on its bulletin board by an unidentified third party. An anonymous message posted on AOL’s message board wrongly stated that Kenneth Zeran was selling T-shirts with offensive slogans about the Oklahoma bombing. Because Zeran’ s phone number was listed on the message, he received death threats and insulting calls. He then sued AOL for taking too long to remove the initial message, as well as the ones that followed, and for failing to post a retraction. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina cited Section 230, held in AOL’s favor, and eventually denied Zeran’ s appeal.
In the court’s opinion the purpose of Section 2340 was precisely to protect freedom of speech on the Internet, since: “It would be impossible for service providers to screen each of their millions of postings for possible problems.” The Court of Appeals based its ruling on Section 230. Although these three cases are not linked to hate speech per se, they are relevant in showing to what extent it is hard to regulate the Internet, since service providers are never held liable for the content of the messages found on their servers. Nevertheless, ISPs have a choice in regulating the material located on their network, hence, most of them decide to obey the law and many ban libelous or defamatory speech, for instance. As private corporations, these service providers have the right to expulse customers or to delete the content of their messages. VIII. Internet Regulations of Hate Speech So far, most Internet regulations are designed to protect children, making it illegal to transmit child pornography, for instance.
However, some states have legislation punishing harassment and fighting words on the Internet. Two examples are the Connecticut and the Georgia’s Internet Laws, which respectively prohibit harassment and terrorist threats. These laws do not prevent people from having personal opinions, regardless of what they may be, but rather to stop criminal activity over the Internet. IX. Blocking Hate Speech: Filters As discussed above, ISP’s can chose to host or not a given Web site however, users can also decide for themselves what they want to be exposed to.
By using a filter, they can deny their computer access to certain Web sites. The World Wide Web Consortium, an international computer industry organization, proposed a technology called Platform for Internet Content selection (PICS). These programs rate the content of a site based on various criteria, such as violence, language, or nudity and then allow access or not. These filtering software when used by private individuals or corporations, do not involve any governmental regulation and therefore do not fall under the First Amendment. But in the Communication Decency Act, the Congress encourages parents to use them, in order to protect their children. The use of filters in public places such as libraries or schools has, however, raised legal issues, since these governmental institutions are not allowed to ban constitutionally protected speech.
They are only allowed to screen out threatening, obscene or libelous speech, but rarely hate speech. Most of the filters focus on screening out pornography, but some like SurfWatch, do block hate speech and prevent access to site that discriminate individuals based on their race or religion, for instance. X. Discussion Combating online extremism presents enormous technological and legal difficulties. Even if it was electronically possible to keep sites off the Internet, the global nature of this medium makes legal regulation almost impossible. In addition, in the United States, the First Amendment guarantees the right of freedom of speech to everyone, even people with offensive opinions. As seen in the cases discussed above, if a hateful speech does not lead to an action, it is hardly punishable. Furthermore, ISPs can host harmful material without being held responsible, which leaves it to their goodwill to create a safe Web environment.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as America Online, which is based in the United States, is considered a “common carrier” and as such benefits full protection. Furthermore, they are not legally responsible for the content of the sites they host, but it is their decision to host or not hate sites. Some carriers do host haters, while others have adopted strict terms of service, prohibiting subscribers to use their facilities for promoting hate. Just as an Internet Service Provider can remove a hate site from its servers, private individuals can remove such sites from their screens. Filtering software products help people or concerned parents to block offensive material from their home computers. Bibliography Bibliography “Citizen Internet Empowerment coalition.” www.ciec.org “Constitutional Challenge to Hate Crimes Statutes.” Available at: www.adl.org “Findlaw: Cyber Space Law Center: Internet/Freedom of Expression: Defamation and Libel.” http://cyber.findlaw.com/expression “Hatecrime.” http://ucl.boward.cc.fl.us “Hate Speech: The Speech that kills.” http//www.indexoncensorship.org “Indecency, Ignorance, and Intolerance: The First Amendment and the Regulation of Electronic Expression.” http://warthog.cc.wm.edu Internet Law Library. Available at: http://www.priweb.com “Legal Information Institute.” www.law.edu/topics/communication Middleton, Kent R., Trager Robert, and Chamberlin, Bill F.
The Law of Public Communication (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000. “Pending Court Cases and Legislation.” http://www.nlp.cs.umass.edu/aw/ch13 Perkins Coie LLP. www.perkinscoie.com “State Law on Hate Crime.” httpp://gsulaw.gsv.edu/lawland “Telecommunications and The First Amendment” Available at http://www.bsos.umd.edu “Terrorism on the Internet.” www.loundy.com Bibliography “Citizen Internet Empowerment coalition.” www.ciec.org “Constitutional Challenge to Hate Crimes Statutes.” Available at: www.adl.org “Findlaw: Cyber Space Law Center: Internet/Freedom of Expression: Defamation and Libel.” http://cyber.findlaw.com/expression “Hatecrime.” http://ucl.boward.cc.fl.us “Hate Speech: The Speech that kills.” http//www.indexoncensorship.org “Indecency, Ignorance, and Intolerance: The First Amendment and the Regulation of Electronic Expression.” http://warthog.cc.wm.edu Internet Law Library. Available at: http://www.priweb.com “Legal Information Institute.” www.law.edu/topics/communication Middleton, Kent R., Trager Robert, and Chamberlin, Bill F. The Law of Public Communication (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000. “Pending Court Cases and Legislation.” http://www.nlp.cs.umass.edu/aw/ch13 Perkins Coie LLP.
www.perkinscoie.com “State Law on Hate Crime.” httpp://gsulaw.gsv.edu/lawland “Telecommunications and The First Amendment” Available at http://www.bsos.umd.edu “Terrorism on the Internet.” www.loundy.com Legal Issues.