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Civility and the Internet

October 23, 2013

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Invitation to a Dialogue: Bring Back Civility” (Oct. 23):

Mitch Horowitz is right to highlight anonymity as contributing to incivility online.  We could go a long way toward mitigating the spread of hateful rhetoric on the Internet today by discouraging anonymous posts and comments, just like anti-mask laws effectively stopped the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s.

Yet discouraging anonymity by itself is not sufficient.  The high-tech industry and especially popular social networks and search engines have a responsibility to respond to hate speech.  Given the enormous volume of content on the Internet this is a huge challenge, and while some have responded more effectively than others, the overall response of the industry has been uneven and inadequate. There is definitely room for more rapid blocking or removal of hateful content that violates their terms of service.

Additional challenges emerge every day.  We recently learned that when users typed “Jews should” into Google search, the auto-complete function was “suggesting” such offensive searches as “Jews should be wiped out,” “Jews should leave Israel,” “Jews should get over the Holocaust” and “Jews should apologize for killing Jesus.”  We called this to Google’s attention and they have been working to refine their system to address this problem.

The Internet has been an enormous force for good, but none of us can ignore its dark side.  We and the industry must be constantly vigilant in responding quickly and effectively to the various manifestations of cyber-hate.

Sincerely,

The Anti-Defamation League

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"The high-tech industry and especially popular social networks and search engines have a responsibility to respond to hate speech."

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