Expert says stand up to Internet hate speech

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published August 22, 2012

Advertisement

FARMINGTON HILLS — An Eastern Michigan University professor who often lectures about hate groups and the Internet told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus Aug. 15 that education and critical thinking are ways to combat the gains that hate groups might make in cyberspace.

Jack Kay is a professor of communication, media and theater arts. Those in the audience comprised members of the public and numerous teachers participating in a weeklong seminar at the museum about teaching the Holocaust.

“We thought we would just come and get a little educated on something we didn’t know much about,” said Donna Winkelman, of Ann Arbor, who attended with Tom Easthope.

Kay traced the history of hate on the Internet to a time before the Internet became mainstream. He said that hate groups got a boost when they became regulars on TV talk shows in the late 1980s and 1990s. Kay played clips from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and the infamous chair-throwing brawl on Geraldo Rivera’s talk show to refresh memories.

“At this point, the white supremacist groups realized that their rallies and their papers and all that were pretty much irrelevant. They discovered the power of media and the power of media to reach many people,” Kay said.

He said hate groups created bulletin boards online that required passwords for people to join during the Internet’s early days, but then the World Wide Web enhanced their reach.

Hate websites inundate people with their messages from the get-go. Kay showed the audience examples of several.

The shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin earlier this month illustrated the fears of those who monitor hate groups’ Internet activities.

“The big fear that a lot of people who are studying the hate movement, particularly the racist music part of the movement, (have) is that … people on the Internet are being told, ‘Don’t join our group. Create a little sleeper cell, get one or two of your friends, go off on your own and go commit some act of racial violence,” said Kay.

“As people started investigating (Wade) Michael Page, they discovered that he was thrown out of the military, but he was also very, very involved in the white supremacist movement and created two white supremacist bands,” said Kay.

Kay said that trying to put a number on hate groups’ members in cyberspace is difficult. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies 26 hate groups in Michigan. It has a map of the United States and hate groups at www.splcenter.org.

Anonymity is one of the factors that makes the Internet a favorite place for hate groups.

“You can watch it in the anonymity of your home. You don’t have to reveal that you’re going to a Klan rally. You don’t have to do any of those sorts of things. It’s a very powerful medium. And music has always been very powerful, both on the left and the right,” Kay said.

He said that in the United States, with its belief in free speech, the way to combat hate groups is to give people the tools they need to think critically and reject the groups.

“I think it’s important that we really have an understanding and that we engage in the whole notion of education as a way of dealing with the hate that’s out there,” said Kay.

And to not let hate speech pass without saying something.

“We need to take a stand,” said Kay.

Detroit Public Schools teacher Alison Gorin listened to the lecture and said she could use it in her teaching.

“I guess, basically, just what he said — just make sure I’m more knowledgeable, and I can give them the tools to think critically and with good information that actually makes sense. Fight ignorance with knowledge,” said Gorin.

“It was quite disheartening to me, to tell you the truth, because it seems like it’s so hard to fight the ignorance,” Winkelman said after the presentation.

Easthope assigns a good deal of blame to the media for giving hate a platform.

“They write down what everybody says. They don’t make judgments even when they’re talking about something that is without a doubt immoral,” said Easthope.

Advertisement