May 9, 2014

Report: Internet Hate Speech Can Lead to Acts of Violence

BY OMAR SACIRBEY ©2014 Religion News Service

Anti-Muslim hate speech on the Internet is
commonplace and can motivate some people to commit acts of violence against
Muslims, according to a report released May 6 by Muslim Advocates, a legal and
advocacy group in San Francisco.

“When you have threatening comments online and
they go unchecked, people start thinking it’s acceptable,” said Madihha
Ahussain, an attorney and the report’s lead author. “And it doesn’t take long
to figure out that what becomes acceptable online becomes acceptable in the
real world.”

The report contains examples of hate speech and
how it can lead to violence, as well as how victims of online hate speech can
report it and counter it. The report aims to help educate parents, students,
youth, community leaders, Internet companies and policymakers on how to counter
online hate speech.

Ahussain said that anti-Muslim websites give
like-minded people a place to gather and at the same time win new supporters
through their posts. As an example, Ahussain cited the Facebook page of
anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, which she said grew from roughly 19,000
followers in July 2013 to some 78,000 people as of late April.

The report also cites the example of Robert
James Talbot Jr., a Texas man who created a Facebook page for the American
Insurgent Movement, whose stated aim was to start a revolution and overthrow
the U.S. government. Talbot was a regular reader of Geller’s Atlas Shrugs

FBI agents arrested Talbot on March 27 on
allegations that he plotted to blow up mosques and other buildings.

The report said most social media platforms
include features where people can report what they perceive to be violations of
speech guidelines.

“I believe they take this very seriously
because they want to have a place where people don’t feel threatened by
others,” Ahussain said.