Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Rise of Cyber-Nationalism and E-Hatred...

The internet is a forum for free expression and the sharing of ideas. We tend to think of this as a good thing, but what happens when the ideas people express are filled with hate and prejudice?

The Economist recently chronicled a list of cases where racism, bigotry, and nationalist jingoism have been fueled by individuals online - notably, bloggers and users of social-networking sites.

Of course, as anyone would expect, governments use their official websites to boast about their achievements and to argue their corner—usually rather clunkily—in disputes about territory, symbols or historical rights and wrongs.

What is much more disturbing is the way in which skilled young surfers — the very people whom the internet might have liberated from the shackles of state-sponsored ideologies — are using the wonders of electronics to stoke hatred between countries, races or religions. Sometimes these cyber-zealots seem to be acting at their governments’ behest — but often they are working on their own, determined to outdo their political masters in propagating dislike of some unspeakable foe.

The article goes on to cite online conflicts that have already occurred between the Americans and Chinese, Israelis and Palestinians, and ethnic Russians versus those from the Caucasus, to name only a few. Other instances of hatred being stoked online are likewise attributed to white supremacy social-networks, jihadist vs. anti-terrorist online games, as well as anti-illegal-immigrant blogs.

Of course, it's quite disturbing that these "ideas" are the ones that people are choosing to express. Not only do they often drown out the more moderate and constructive voices in cyberspace, but they also appeal to the worst parts of humanity. However, just as in real-space, if we are to maintain an internet that values free speech, such ideas still must be tolerated, even protected, so long as they are not defamatory or injurious in any way.

Unfortunate as all this may be, two important points are worth remembering: 1) these hateful online messages are only reflections of what's out there in the world we live in, and is by no means just an internet phenomenon, and 2) that if people disapprove of the hateful messages being spread, they can (and should) equally express their disapproval. After all, the more that we non-zealots speak up, the more likely we are to drown out the nutjobs.


Post a Comment

<< Home