International session deals with free speech
International experts met Wednesday in Paris to tackle the tricky task of fighting anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic propaganda on the Internet — seen as a chief factor in a rise in hate crime.
The new technology has proven to be a boon for hatreds of old, many experts say.
“Our responsibility is to underline that by its own characteristics — notably, immediacy and anonymity — the Internet has seduced the networks of intolerance,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in opening the two-day conference.
France, which is leading the effort, has faced a surge in anti-Semitic violence. Some fault the growth of Internet use among hate groups.
But differing views about the limits of free speech and the ease of public access to the nebulous, anonymous Web largely stymied officials hoping to find common ground in Wednesday’s talks.
A sticking point was whether the United States, which has championed free speech, would line up with European countries that have banned racist or anti-Semitic speech in public.
The dilemma is acute because the Internet is global, easy to use and tough to regulate.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Dan Bryant acknowledged the American approach differs from that of other countries.
“We believe that government efforts to regulate bias-motivated speech on the Internet are fundamentally mistaken,” Bryant said. “At the same time, however, the United States has not stood and will not stand idly by when individuals cross the line from protected speech to criminal conduct.”
He said the United States believes the best way to reduce hate speech is to confront it, by promoting tolerance, understanding and other ideas that enlighten.
Robert Badinter, a former French justice minister, said that of 4,000 racist sites counted worldwide in 2002, 2,500 were based in the United States.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group based in Los Angeles, said one strategy is for Internet service providers in the United States to honor antiracism language in their own contracts. That would at least “put a crimp in that subculture on the Internet,” he said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 55-country body that promotes security and human rights, organized the conference with the backing of the French government.
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