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'Hactivism' Must Stop


Visited in the last few days? If so, you might have been surprised. The usually caustic, whites-'r'-us content was gone; instead, the URL linked to, a prominent bigotry-monitoring site.

The KKK site was hacked Sept. 4, with visitors redirected to Hatewatch, where, presumably, they'd be convinced to give up their repugnant ways. This was the second such hate hack in recent weeks. Two weeks before,, the site of strident gay enemy Fred Phelps, was redirected by an anonymous hacker to a young gay man who then used it to pull visitors to his site,

"Tee, hee," you might respond. "Serves the bigots rights."

Wrong. These hacks, although perhaps inspired by good intentions, must stop. You can't censor hate; you must cure it. There's a huge difference. And no one argues that better than the man on the receiving end of the latest hacker bequest.

"Hatewatch has not nor ever will condone such behavior," said David Goldman, the Massachusetts brain behind "Not only is this type of action illegal, but it has the effect of calling into question the legitimacy of the online civil rights movement as a whole."

Goldman, who fights to overcome hate and bigotry on a daily basis by exposing it, warned well-meaning computer geeks against using censorship tactics -- which he calls "vandalism" -- to shut down speech they don't agree with, even for a few days. It won't work, and it sets a dangerous precedent, he said.

"In the strongest possible terms, HateWatch condemns this type of "hactivism" against the Ku Klux Klan Web site or any Web site, regardless of the rationale," he said last weekend.

Just days before the KKK hack, Goldman condemned the hack of "Limiting someone's speech ...even temporarily, takes away one of the greatest advantages the civil rights community has on the Web: exposing bigots using their own words," he told me in an interview.

He's right. But not enough folks seem to be listening. Every time a new incident of violence occurs, our newly wired society rushes to their monitors to find an excuse for it. The Trench Coat Mafia had an Internet presence! (They didn't, actually.) Hate on the Web kills! (See scare stories about any recent hate crime. Actually, people with deadly weapons kill.) Fred Phelps goes too far in his anti-gay tirades! (Who's to say?)

"I think there are limits," said Kris Haight, the New Hampshire systems administrator who introduced Haight said speech should be free on the Internet, but that Phelps goes too far, especially when he says murdered Wyoming student Matthew Shepard is burning in hell.

"Everybody has a right to their freedom of speech," he then added. "I've seen hate sites that have been very tastefully done."

Tasteful hate? Can we stop and think about this? Hate is not a matter of taste, nor is the right to free speech. It's very easy for us liberal, compassionate types to laugh when speech we despise is squelched. It's easy to smirk at the clever hack of hate sites. It's easy to think bigots might be forced to reform with some well-placed anti-hate content.

But censorship never works. Instead of giggling about cute, illegal tricks -- or "digital picket signs" as Haight called his Godhatesfags takeover -- we should put our energy into protecting free speech for all.

Goldman recommended that we put the Web's hate content to good use. "The best method is a long-term one: education, getting people organized to participate and become active," Goldman suggested. Sites such as Phelps and the KKK site are vital tools, he said. We can learn what types of bigotry lurk out there -- instead of pretending the civil rights movement was fought and won in the 1960s. It wasn't.

We should all get acquainted with bigotry on the Web, and thus in our communities. Then, and only then, perhaps we can beat it. "Education and participation, not acts of vandalism, will make the Web a more tolerant community," Goldman said. Silly tricks certainly won't.

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