The Data of Hate

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz raises some important questions after his data-driven foray into the world of the white supremacist website Stormfront: “Why do people feel this way?” he asks. “And what is to be done about it?” (“The Data of Hate,” Sunday Review, July 14).

What attracts someone to hateful racist and anti-Semitic beliefs varies considerably. There are many paths to hate, and different people take different routes.

White supremacists often claim some past moment of “awakening,” spurred by some alleged encounter with or mistreatment at the hands of ethnic or religious minorities. Some will turn to white supremacy because they grew up in a family or social environment in which such beliefs were condoned or encouraged. Many join simply because a strong personality -- an older sibling, a friend or co-worker, a spouse or partner -- led them into it. Others join out of a sense of alienation -- an inability to relate to their community or society. Although Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz’s data is impressionistic at best, it is a reasonable assumption that Stormfront itself appeals to white supremacists at least in part because they can post comments anonymously, and find support from others who share their hateful views.

As to the question of what can be done about such hatred, we know from years of being on the frontline of battling hatred that the most effective way to counteract hate speech and bigotry is, simply, more speech. When they venture outside hate-filled forums and encounter good people willing to stand up and speak out, haters are ostracized, sidelined and silenced.  And education, starting even with the very young, is perhaps the most effective antidote to check the disease of anti-Semitism and racism before it can spread.

The Anti-Defamation League

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