The national office of the Anti-Defamation League has purchased six anti-Semitic Web domain names to prevent hate groups from using them.
ADL officials say that is the only way to keep such names out of the hands of those who want to recruit white supremacists and anti-Semites online.
The list of site names ADL bought includes kike.com, kike.net, "things with the word kike in the title," according to Jonathan Bernstein, executive director of the ADL Central Pacific region.
"This is not the most effective way to fight hate," he added. "It's just one more tool."
The ADL is not alone in trying to grab the names before hate groups do. The NAACP has reportedly been shopping for potential Internet sites with anti-black slurs in the titles.
However, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said the onus to keep such slurs off computer screens should not be on agencies like the ADL or the NAACP but on the companies that form the backbone of the Internet.
"If you go to these domain registries — and there are only about 10 companies — you can request 'killalljews.com' and they'll sign you right up," he said. "They don't have to do that. It's time for these very young [companies] to grow up and realize they cannot stand behind the rubric of the First Amendment. This is not a free-speech issue, it's a commerce issue."
He added, "An exchange of ideas? Yes. But a hate attack is a hate attack is a hate attack."
The fervor to snap up the rights to racial and ethnic slurs became public when a Washington Post reporter discovered an unorthodox auction in progress on eBay, the leading online auction site headquartered in Menlo Park.
An anonymous seller was seeking big bucks for the rights to the word n – – – – r.
"We're talking about an asking price of $1 million," Bernstein said.
However, eBay officials stopped the auction when the story broke.
Advocates for both freedom of speech and the marketplace applauded the ADL for buying up hate domain names.
"My own feeling is that the World Wide Web is hierarchical, so taking out one of these domain names will have some impact," said Steve Rothman, assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's San Francisco office.
"It is a marketplace, and that's a good marketplace solution. On the other hand, the Internet is democratic. So when you buy a name, you don't stop the message. You just divert it. It's a cosmetic solution."
The real solution to curbing hate speech lies in education, he said: "I'm sure even the ADL would say this is only one step."
In fact, ADL officials only bought the domain names because they were available at a low price, totaling "less than $1,000," Bernstein said.
However, snapping up offensive names won't become a major focus of the ADL. The ADL will continue to pursue those who would sell Nazi memorabilia online, Bernstein said.
Officials of eBay have continued to defend their sale and advertising of military paraphernalia.
Its recent auction, publicized online, of Adolf Hitler's telephone book, his monogrammed bedsheet and telegrams by Nazi officials sparked a furor. But Butterfield & Butterfield, an eBay-owned company, cited the practices of numerous other auction houses and online traders.
ADL's Bernstein said, "It's been pretty difficult to try to get any agreement" with eBay.
"Actually," he added, "eBay only got pulled into this discussion over domain names because of this one very bizarre auction" involving Web rights to the offensive term for African-American.
According to eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove, the seller "suggested that [his] item would be apropos for a hate group" when he opened the bidding for the n-word. Specifically, he claimed the name would be "perfect for individuals or groups who wish to promote hate speech."
"That is below the level of behavior we demand of our users," said Pursglove, defending the company's ethical standards.
All eBay members must agree to abide by company guidelines before they post an item for sale, he said. Those guidelines prohibit the sale of firearms, stolen goods, body parts — "oh, a long list of things."
However, "it's safe to say [eBay allows the posting of] other items in which the word appears as, say, part of a book title or a record title."
With roughly 3 million items for sale via Internet auction on any given day, there are simply too many to review, he said. Customer service staffers "are monitoring the site all the time, but that is largely for illegal items."
While eBay did take swift action in the domain name auction, Pursglove admitted company officials wouldn't have known about it if they hadn't been contacted by the Washington Post.
In a related development, Attorney General Janet Reno introduced her vision for a super agency to police the Internet on Monday. She spoke to an audience of several hundred before the National Association of Attorneys General at Stanford University.
LawNet would include a data bank of forensic information that could be shared by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to stop computer-related crimes, including hate crime.
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