The Internet and social media are proving to be a double-edged sword. While they expand the possibilities of commerce and information-sharing, they are also used by terrorists to recruit members, to promote hate, and even to reveal ways to make bombs. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, has been tracking potential online violence and issued a report in New York City Thursday entitled 'Digital Terrorism and Hate 2011'”
The report, issued on DVD, documents how terrorists and hate groups use such digital technologies as the Internet, smart phone apps, Skype, YouTube and e-books to not only distribute hate messages, but to act on them as well.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, says hate groups often post calls for violence, counting on anonymous individuals known as "lone wolves" to act on them. He notes that November’s deadly bombing of a Catholic church in Baghdad was preceded a month earlier by a specific threat online demanding that Catholics intervene in the Christian-Muslim dispute in Egypt.
"What is so particularly disturbing about it is that this is not so much a warning as a threat to Catholics in Iraq that if they didn’t intervene with Coptic Christians in Egypt, they would be attacked," he said.
Nearly 60 men, women and children died in the attack. More than 20 people were killed in the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt.
Rabbi Cooper says there are as many as 14,000 websites, blogs, and social networking pages that direct hate against religious, ethnic and racial minorities. He says the Internet is the perfect place to incubate hate, because it has no editors or librarians. This, he says, allows for lies and half-truths on well-designed web pages that influence the unsuspecting. There are even online games, which allow a youngster in America score points by shooting Mexicans trying to cross the U.S. border, or one in Germany to eliminate Turkish immigrants. Cooper notes that online hate now incorporates such animosities as Japanese vs. Koreans, Central Europeans vs. the Roma and various peoples of South Asia against one another.
"We’re beginning to see globally that wherever you have contentious kinds of historic issues, or classic hatreds, we’re beginning to see it percolate online as more and more people get access to these technologies," he said.
The Wiesenthal Center shares its findings with government authorities whenever there is suspicion of possible violence. The organization is also in contact with Facebook management to prevent the social networking site from being used as a platform for violence. At the same time, officials at the center recognize the free speech and privacy rights of everyone using the Internet.
"We’re looking at open source public material, and we’re just combing it, and we have translators," said the center’s director of government affairs, Mark Weitzman. "It’s basically doing research using primary sources. We’ve never hacked into anybody; we’ve never done anything illegal, never look into or try to break down the barriers there."
Rabbi Cooper says the front line of hate that existed in the pre-Internet world is migrating online. He shared his findings earlier with the New York City Police Department, noting that law enforcement officials worldwide must follow the Internet to pre-empt potential violence.