A fatal shooting at Holocaust museum has sparked renewed demands for restrictions on freedom of expression in cyberspace.
Call for hate groups to be taken offline
WASHINGTON // Last week's fatal shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the US capital by a man authorities say has deep ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organisations has renewed calls by some for Holocaust denial groups to be shut down on popular social networking sites. Brian Cuban, an attorney in Texas who writes a blog called The Cuban Revolution, is seeking to have groups such as Facebook's "Holohoax" and "Holocaust: A Series of Lies" removed from the site, calling them a "hateful form of speech that promotes violence". "It's not a historical theory, it is a pretext to bring together people who hate Jews," Mr Cuban said of Holocaust denial. "Holocaust denial is hate. And what more do you need to show that Holocaust denial is hate than somebody who is a denier walking in the museum and killing somebody?" The suspect in Wednesday's shooting, James von Brunn, 88, has a "long history of associations" with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, one of the country's foremost authorities on hate groups. Von Brunn had created a website called holywesternempire.com, which the centre designated as a hate site in 2003. Among the things reportedly found in von Brunn's vehicle after the museum shooting that left Stephen T Johns, a 39-year-old African-American security guard dead, was a note that said: "The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews." Von Brunn is expected to survive the injuries he sustained when other museum guards returned fire, according to the FBI. Facebook, for its part, has said the existence of such groups - while "repulsive" and "ignorant" - does not violate the site's terms of service. Those terms disallow hateful and threatening speech, but officials say the Holocaust groups Mr Cuban is seeking to have removed have not crossed that line. In some countries, Holocaust denial is a crime, though not in the US. "Just being offensive or objectionable doesn't get it taken off Facebook," Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman, told CNN last month. "We want it to be a place where people can discuss all kinds of ideas, including controversial ones." Mr Cuban and others had been attempting to get Facebook to take action even before the shooting. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish rights organisation, released a report last month titled Facebook, YouTube: How Social Media Outlets Impact Digital Terrorism and Hate, which said that the "extremist use" of such sites has grown. It documented a 25 per cent increase in the past year of "problematic" groups on those sites. Facebook has taken action in some cases. The site recently disabled the group "I Hate Muslims in Oz" because it contained an "explicit statement of hate". It also removed a Ku Klux Klan group, a blog at CNET.com reported. The Holocaust denial groups are relatively small. "Holocaust is a Myth" listed 64 members on Friday, while "Holohoax" had 59. An attempt to reach the person listed as the creator of Holohoax, Jimmy Degrace, was unsuccessful. A counter-group that has sprung up, United Against Holocaust Denial on Facebook, has grown quickly to 49,000 members. The Jewish internet Defense Force (JIDF), an online organisation that works to remove material from the internet that supports Islamic terrorism and racial hatred, has launched a letter-writing campaign to 20 companies - including Radio Shack, Sprint, AT&T and Microsoft - that it says advertise on Facebook "side-by-side with material which denies the Holocaust". They are asking the companies to pull their ads. Barack Obama, the US president, recently visited the concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany, with Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor. Mr Obama said there that denying the Holocaust is "baseless", "ignorant" and "hateful". Last week, about the museum shooting, Mr Obama said: "This reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms." Mr Cuban does not draw a direct connection between the suspect in the shooting and the Facebook sites he opposes. But he did call such sites "training grounds" for those with the same supremacist ideas as the ones allegedly held by von Brunn. He has reported that several European companies did pull their ads from Facebook because they did not want to be associated with Holocaust denial content. "It is time for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to once and for all close down his Facebook recruiting ground for the 'James Von Brunns In Training' of the world," Mr Cuban wrote in his blog. "They are training unchecked in the giant social media universe of Facebook. It is time to send the message that this hatred and violence being spawned on Facebook will no longer be tolerated." "It's silly games with semantics," Mr Cuban said in an interview. "Because the site doesn't say 'We hate Jews', and they call it Holocaust denial instead, that does not qualify it as a hate group. It's semantics. It's ignorant semantics and it's naive semantics." firstname.lastname@example.org