In New Book, ADL Experts Offer Internet Industry a Blueprint for Combating Online Hate Speech

New York, NY, June 3, 2013 … Two of the country’s leading experts on bigoted speech and the Internet have joined forces as authors of a new book that lays out a blueprint for governments, industry leaders and societies to take proactive steps to stem the tide of hate speech on the Internet.

Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a longtime leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry, and Christopher Wolf, ADL Civil Rights Chair and one of the nation’s leading practitioners in the field of Internet and privacy law, outline the challenges posed by online hate and propose a series of solutions in their new book, Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet (Palgrave Macmillan), available in bookstores and for downloading to e-readers on June 4.

Kirkus Reviews calls Viral Hate “a swift yet thorough examination of hate speech on the Internet.” Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, said the authors do “… a remarkable job in Viral Hate of balancing important concerns about freedom of expression with a blunt look at how the Internet can distort those freedoms to undermine a democratic society that we cherish.”

Viral Hate discusses how in the past 20 years, the Internet, with all of its many advantages to society and the free-flow of information, has become one of the most powerful tools for bigots to spread evil messages of intolerance and rage. As the Internet has grown and changed over the years, racists and bigots have found new ways to exploit the technology to spread hateful messages and recruit others to join their cause, and the book provides numerous examples of how this has happened.

“We each have experienced and witnessed, in different ways, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of hate,” Foxman and Wolf write in the book’s introduction. “We have joined together to write this book to share our combined professional knowledge of the issue of Internet hate, to raise awareness of the seriousness of a rapidly growing societal problem, and to propose ways in which good people – including the leaders of the Internet industry – can address the problem without compromising our vital historic commitment to freedom of expression.”

The book offers specific recommendations for the industry, as well as for educators, parents and Internet users. The industry recommendations include:

  • Creating clear policies on hate speech and including them within terms of service;
  • Creating mechanisms for enforcing hate speech policies;
  • Establishing a clear, user-friendly process for allowing users to report hate speech;
  • Increasing transparency about terms of service;
  • Actively encouraging counter-speech and education to address hate speech.

Recommendations for Internet users include:

  • Flagging offensive content;
  • Speaking out and, in a smart and careful way, being prepared to challenge hateful messages with positive ones;
  • Promoting counter-speech, applauding positive messages and recommending them to others;
  • Talking about what you have seen, and reaching out to watchdog agencies with experience dealing with hate and bigotry;
  • For educators, working to ensure that schools have appropriate policies in place, and emphasizing the importance of critical thinking.

Defining the Problem

Mr. Foxman, a longtime leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry, and Mr. Wolf, who has represented ADL in a number of international bodies tasked with fighting Internet hate, cite numerous instances in recent years where individuals like James von Brunn, the white supremacist and U.S. Holocaust Museum shooter, have taken advantage of the power of social networking sites to spread hateful messages and to find likeminded bigots. And they identify the various forms of hate speech that have proliferated online, including racism, anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, Holocaust denial, homophobia, misogyny, promotion of terrorism and harassment.

Identifying the Role of Internet Hosts

In Viral Hate, Foxman and Wolf discuss how ADL helped to convene a new working group on online hate that is bringing together Internet industry leaders and others to probe the roots of the problem and develop new solutions to address it head on. The Task Force on Internet Hate, created by the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, is just one of the approaches the authors suggest can help address the problem of online hate speech.

“There are some people opposed to Internet hate who think a better approach is for NGOs like ADL to have an adversarial relationship with Internet platforms, the better to publicly condemn mistaken decisions about Internet hate,” the authors write. “Obviously, we disagree. The new group does not foreclose public criticism, and ADL will continue to be outspoken when necessary. But it does permit closer communication and opportunities for persuasion. Our strong belief is that it’s preferable to have a seat at the table rather than remain outside in the hall when decisions are made about online hate.”

A Call for Digital Literacy

The authors say it is “a national disgrace” that schools do not have as a requirement courses instructing children on the appropriate use of electronic communication. “There are only a few school systems in the country that require education in digital literacy,” write Foxman and Wolf. “We believe that education for coping with the challenges of digital life ought to be mandated, or at least made available, at the federal level through the Department of Education. It is absolutely fundamental not only to create a more civil society, but also to empower kids to protect themselves online, so that when they group up they will understand that certain words and behaviors are not acceptable.”

Editors Note: For more information on Viral Hate visit The authors are available for interviews upon request. For more information or to schedule an interview contact ADL Media Relations at or (212) 885-7755.

ADL is the world’s leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education, and fighting hate online, ADL is the first call when acts of anti-Semitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.

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