The Internet grew 20% more hateful in the past year according to new figures. That’s not in terms of losers nitpicking on forum flame wars, but rather racist and other hurtful material, plus terrorist propaganda.
The report comes from the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance, named after a Jewish holocaust survivor who later pursued those guilty of war crimes.
It’s important to note that the headline figure may be misleading in some senses. It’s based on the raw number of “hate” filled pages identified by the Center: 11,500 this year. Some, if not all of that increase could be down to two particular factors: the Center doing a better job of tracking them down, and the increase in the number of websites generally.
Of course, while the proportion of sites with such material may not have risen by 20%, if indeed it rose at all, it doesn’t really matter how rare or common a site is once people are affected by it.
The most significant finding from the research is that most of the increase is not down to standalone web sites, but rather pages and messages on social networking sites.
Another problem with the increase in numbers is that it makes it much more difficult for the authorities to track genuine threats before they develop into offline activity. CNN notes that a man arrested over a shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last year had maintained a site containing racist material, but that it would have been difficult for officials to forecast it would lead to violence.
The full report is distributed as a CD-ROM rather than put online. That’s because it contains content, such as instructional videos showing how to make bombs, which the Center doesn’t want to give further publicity to.