Fighting against racism in Internet

The article entitled “Fighting against racism in Internet” examines the problem about dissemination of racist ideas in web-space and its inappropriate social results as well as the activities and measures, undertaken against this dangerous phenomenon. The reasons of popularity of internet communication among racist community are analyzed.

The text also reveals the activities on the international level against online racism – the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems on 28.03.2003 in Strasbourg and The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH) as non-governmental organization specified in combating discrimination in internet. Finally the article reaches to the idea that racism in internet has to be restricted but not at the price of violation of human rights. A balance between the protection of freedom of speech and expression and key legal and policy measures to control the use of the Internet in promoting racist and xenophobic views and incitement to violence is needed to be achieved.

The rapidly developing new digital technologies as Internet have changed inevitably the way of people communication, enabling quick dissemination of ideas and images between large numbers of people all over the world. However this increased freedom of information-sharing has not only positive consequences, but also can impact negatively upon civil society and human rights and can lead to inappropriate social results.

Racism was one of the pressing social problems in every civilized society long before the emergence of digital technologies. The development of communication process since internet was created puts this problem in a new dimension.  In nowadays global net can be used/source of many dangerous phenomenon’s, including racism. 

Using  new technologies extremist groups and individuals have a new powerful instrument to propagate  racial discrimination, xenophobia, neonazism, antisemitism etc./ instrument for the widespread dissemination of racist content. The Internet is increasingly used by racist groups to disseminate racist ideology, as well as to communicate to recruit, organise and mobilize members and raise finances through the sale of racist merchandise. Internet is a valuable tool for racist groups because of several reasons: they do not usually have access to the regular mass media; Internet is a global communication system which allows them to be internationally organised; Internet technology is easily used and available at low cost; repression of racist activities on the Internet is not yet efficient. Therefore one of the consequences of advancement of the new communication technologies in digital era is the increased number of extremist hate websites, propagate hate speech and incite racial violence, and incidents of racist violence and crimes prompted by racist content on the Internet.

The nature of developing technologies means that areas that were once considered private spaces are now public. This fact makes internet communication quite different from face-to-face communication, where relations are more formal and usually requires a civility.  But when communicating anonymously people feel free from the public requirements in and they are far more insulting than in a real life. In this way anonymity leads to facilitation of the bluntness and hostile behavior in cyberspace. Therefore racism in the virtual world is a much more venomous form than in the reality. Internet racists usually do not act  that way  daily as they do in webspace. Just few of them have the courage to stand openly behind their statements. In this way internet brings out the worst possible treatment between people.

The racism, which occurs in internet, can be defined as internet racism, cyber racism or online racism. There are various forms of racist activity on the Internet –  online racist comments,  emails, blogs and websites with racist content, forums chat-rooms, discussion groups and social networks, where racists can communicate each other and spread their dangerous ideas, racist music, videos, computer games and other racist merchandise.

The websites with racist content are very important tools for dissemination of racist ideas. They are used to advertise racist ideology and to recruit new members to racists, fascists or neo-nazist organizations. First racist websites have appeared in the early 90’s  and since then they have increased to such great number that it is very difficult to be estimated. In beginning of 21st century websites with racist content in the Internet  were more than two thousand . However the shocking element is not the exact number of racist pages, but their impact upon people.

The other forms of communication in web such as email, chat-rooms and social networks can be used for intergration in racist community. Other disturbing form of racism in Internet is the possibility to download and buy racist music, books, videos, video games and other racist merchandise, which can be used to foster racist ideas and incite racist violence. Internet enables broadcasting of radio and television programs, which also can be used by racist organizations to propagate their disturbing ideas. In addition, some analysts note that internet can be used not only for publicity and broadcasting, but for incite racial violence acts and planning terrorist activities. In conclusion, cyber racism is using information and communication technologies to support hostile behaviour intended to harm others.

The freedom, which internet provides is in contrary with human rights, because every person has the right to live without fear of harassment or intimidation, and right to be protected from physical and psychological abuse, including racism and discrimination. In this context every state, which pretend to be democratic, has criminalized and punished activities, motivated by racial hatred.  The expert urged world governments to guarantee the right to security and access to justice without discrimination to vulnerable groups and individuals and protect them from racist and xenophobic attacks by extremists.

There is no doubt that every democratic society should have zero tolerance racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination. But the real problem is what measures have to be used and if they will be effective enough. Cooperation, similar to cooperation against other inappropriate occurrences in the webspace, for example child pornography, is needed for fighting against online racism. In all levels (national, regional and international) good practices and initiatives should be undertaken in combating the use of the Internet for propagating racist and xenophobic content and incitement to racial, and xenophobic violence. In addition webspace has to turned from instrument, which facilities dissemination of racist ideology to a key tool in combat against racism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism.

Some experts and politicians insist on a strict measure against racist materials published online and severe punishment to those, who spread racist, neo-nazi and xenophobic ideas in internet . This means strengthen control upon webspace. Such methods against online racism are criticized as violation of human rights. Complete control in internet space can happen only in totalitarian countries, this is impossible in democracy, because liberal legislation protects freedom of speech.

Net experts agree that the majority of right wing, neo-nazi and fascist websites that publish racist material are concentrated in USA. However American legislation vis-à-vis proliferation of racist ideas is quite liberal and free speech protections are nearly absolute due to First Amendment of the US Constitution . Despite of this some websites have the practice to pursue those who post racist comments .  In some countries trials are initiated in convictions of online racism.  In this case a problem about jurisdiction exists.  Internet does not recognize territories and boundaries and this way a question emerges whose jurisdiction does the crimes in webspace come under. Moreover, some activities are crimes in some states, but they are not in others, the denial of Holocaust for example.

The fact that web space is accessible from across international borders means it cannot be controlled only on national level and  international cooperation is necessary. In this context member states  of the Council of Europe on 23.11.2001 in Budapest has signed Convention on Cybercrime , which has entered into force on 01.07.2004. 

After the signing of this Convention, some criticism has appeared because it does not include articles against racism in cyberspace. This fact forced parties of the Convention to accept Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems on 28.03.2003 in Strasbourg. This is the main internationational legal instrument for combating racism in internet. According  to Article 1 the main purpose of this international document is criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems. Article 2 define racist and xenophobic material as “any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors.”.

Next articles of the Protocol content obligation for the parties to adopt measures, which are necessary for the fight against racism in internet on national level. These measures are directed to harmonization of national legislation of parties of the convention and the Protocol.

The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH) is a non-governmental organization specified in combating discrimination in internet . INACH is based in Amsterdam and is established on 4 October 2002 under Dutch law. The organization unites organizations from all over the world with the purpose to create an international network against racial hatred in cyber space. 

Its mission is to reinforce mutual respect for the rights and reputations of all Internet users. In pursuance of its goals the organization exchanges information to enhance effectivity of such organisations, lobbies for international legislation to combat discrimination on Internet, advocates for stronger laws against online hate speech, proffers a list of incidents in which virtual racism set the stage for crime in real life, supports groups and institutions who want to set up a complaints bureau, creates awareness and promote attitude change about discrimination on the internet by giving information and education etc. Everyone has the possibility to make complaint, addressed to INACH about racist material on internet.

Fighting against the promotion of racial, ethnic and xenophobic hatred on the Internet problem and its solution requires cooperation between States, international bodies, private sector, civil society and local communities. The approaches and measures, which are used in the process of combating racism on the net have to be coordinated amongst different actors, including governments, civil society organisations, Internet service providers and the private sector in general.

However the activities against racial hatred in the webspace must be in compliance with a human rights and should not violate freedom of expression. In this context any restrictions, control and censorship of the content disseminated via the Internet should be based on a solid legal framework .

It is necessary to achieve appropriate balance between the protection of freedom of speech and expression and key legal and policy measures taken at national, regional and international levels to control the use of the Internet in promoting racist and xenophobic views and incitement to violence.

Bibliography :

1.  Dr, Yaman Akdeniz – Legal instruments for combating racism on internet, 2009;

2.  Dr, Yaman Akdeniz – Racism on internet, 2010;

3.  Australian human rights commission – Examples of racist material on internet;

4.  BBC News

5.  Guardian

6.  Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime;

7.  The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH)




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