The Internet has enabled revolutions in the Middle East and changed the way people communicate. It has also become a tool for hate groups and terrorists. A new report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles suggests that the problem is worsening.
Rick Eaton, a senior researcher for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, points to some of the 15,000 websites scrutinized in this year's "Digital Terrorism and Hate" report. He says Internet forums offer a wealth of information for would-be terrorists.
". . . different explosives, manuals, and lessons in remote detonation, cell phone detonators, rockets . . . ." Eaton says there also are lessons in kidnapping and guerrilla management.
"And many times these are spiced with the political philosophy -- not only how to do it, but [also] where you should do it and what targets you should attack."
This 14th annual survey of Internet terror and hate sites is the first to be available to law enforcement agencies through an online application that provides up-to-date listings.
Eaton notes that al-Qaida was among the early adopters of digital technology and that the footprint of the loose-knit terror group continues to grow online. Mohamed Merah, who claimed ties to al-Qaida, was suspected of killing a French rabbi, three Jewish children and three French paratroopers last month. Soon after he was killed in a gunfight with police, sites linked to al-Qaida were praising Merah. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to prosecute people who frequent terrorist sites on the Internet.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says hate sites increasingly target religious minorities.
"We should be living in a world where -- whether it's a Friday, Saturday or Sunday -- families should be able to leave their homes, go to their house of worship and return peacefully. And yet, whether it's a hate crime in the United States or if you're looking at the targeting of Christians from Nigeria, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, what's happened in Iraq, right through to Afghanistan and Pakistan, you have the targeting of millions of people," Cooper said.
Cooper says other sites promote violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
He says policy makers need to be part of the search for solutions, but that merely enacting new laws will not solve the problem. Cooper says it will take community involvement, especially by youngsters, who are adept at navigating the Internet. He says they and their parents need to be alert to websites that cross the line from free discussion to targeting groups for discrimination and violence.
Cooper says Internet companies must also do more, and notes that Facebook executives have met with the Wiesenthal Center and responded to some of its concerns. He gives lower grades to YouTube, which hosts videos that Cooper says promote violence. He shows one that portrays children in Pakistan playing suicide bomber.
"It's an entire scenario where you have the young person saying, 'Goodbye,' to their friends and loved ones, being confronted by a policeman trying to stop them, and then in a very creative way, if you will, going up in a cloud of dust," Cooper said.
Facebook and YouTube have policies against hate speech and inciting violence, and both say they are committed to free speech.
Cooper says that Twitter poses a different problem. Twitter has been used to communicate by members of al-Shabab, the Somali group that the U.S. government and other countries have identified as a terrorist organization.
Cooper says leaders of religious and ethnic communities need to talk about the shared concerns of hate and terrorism.
"We all have our own priorities. We have to stand up for our own rights and our own communities. But it's very, very important to take a look and see what the bad guys are doing because as far as they're concerned, they don't like Jews, they don't like Muslims, the don't like immigrants, they don't like gays," Cooper said.
Cooper says the marketing potential of the Internet is spreading this bigotry. The Simon Wiesenthal Center official says websites that urge individual acts of violence by those unaffiliated with terrorist organizations are even more worrying because they are harder for law enforcement to monitor. Cooper says more online sites are encouraging this kind of violent behavior.