Cyber Racism

White Supremacy: An Online Threat To Our Youth

In her book, Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights, Jessie Daniels discusses the common misconceptions about white supremacy online; it’s lurking threats to today’s youth; and possible solutions on navigating through the Internet, a large space where so much information is easily accessible (including hate-speech and other offensive content). Daniels claims that although no one can say for sure how many white supremacy sites there are on the internet, the number is definitely rising (especially after Barack Obama’s election in 2008), and a majority of them are fueled by people in the USA.

Daniels lays out three threats that white supremacists pose online to the the world:

Threat 1: Internet provides easy access—she coins the term “globalization”—and hence, perpetuates ”translocal whiteness”: a white identity that is not bound by geography (7).

Threat 2: Some white supremacist sites, that subject minorities to the “white racial frame,” motivate danger and violence in real life.

Threat 3: Through the nature of its medium, the Internet tends to equalize all sites, rendering what used to be intensely personal and political views in the 1960’s into a modern-day matter of personal preference.

Daniels explains that the internet is a very powerful tool for white supremacists. It provides anonymity. This consequences in cloaked websites. Cleverly cloaked websites, through their mimicry of civil rights language and use of generic site names, can lure unaware internet users, particularly youth.

Are All White Supremacists White?

As globalization shows, the internet allows for stronger connections between greater amounts of people around the world. This means that one does not necessarily have to be White to be a member or supporter of one of these sites.

One example of white supremacy that Daniels cites is the case of Richard Machado (a Mexican-American) in 1998, who was convicted of sending hate-emails to various Asian and Asian-American students at UC Irvine. Although Machado is not White, he adopted the white racial frame and inflicted it upon others. However, Daniels claims that Machado, to this day, remains the only person in the US to be convicted of online hate crime. To reiterate, he is Mexican-American.

Government Intervention

So, the American government won’t convict creators of widespread white supremacist sites like Stormfront.org, but they will convict a Mexican American individual who does essentially the same exact thing? Daniels explains: the government claims that it only takes certain actions against an online hate crime when, for example, it involves threatening the lives of others. Even then, Daniels adds, this rule is not followed very strictly.

Governments in other nations, such as Germany, have very strict rules on online hate speech. In fact, Daniels claims that many countries in Europe have some degree of government intervention on this matter. She uses the term “U.S./Europe cyberhate divide” (176) to emphasize the difference in governmental stances.

This just goes to show that the American government—and the American people—very highly value their First Amendment, in many situations, for good reason.  This has certain repercussions: “In protecting white supremacy online the United States dramatically reduces the likelihood that nations who wish to regulate it will be able to do so” (178).

Instead of convicting individuals for online hate crimes, the American government advocates software filters. Large companies like AOL are known to provide an online environment safe from pornography. It also has rules about offenses on racial and gender identity, but these rules are less strictly followed. Daniels points out that AOL still allows white supremacist sites like those run by the KKK to be on its network. Additionally, although AOL prohibits certain words like the N-word to be searched, white supremacist sites claim that this prohibition is a violation of the First Amendment. As you can tell, the lines are kind of fuzzy…

Where do we draw the line?A Racial Smoothie

Where do we draw the line? A Racial Smoothie, Image by Flickr User Surian Soosay / Creative Commons licensed BY 2.0

Daniels also discusses the similar, but unique effects that white supremacy has on other identity issues such as gender, sexuality, interracial marriage etc.

America Is Not Post-racial, But We Can Work Towards It

By the end of this reading, I felt as if there is no way to escape. Some of the best secrets of the internet can also be so harmful… However, Daniels proposed a way that today’s youth can avoid getting into messy situations. She introduces the term “multiple literacies.” By becoming fluent in issues of race/gender/sexuality and the various other aspects of our cultures, our youth will more deeply understand its complex surroundings.

Humans vs. Machines, or Posthuman?

Our second reading for this week was selections from Katherine Hayles’ book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and informatics. Hayles ultimately claims that our world will soon become posthuman. The real question is: What exactly does that mean? She explains that there will eventually be no difference between human (matter) and machine (carrier of information). In fact, by extending the abilities of the human body, the posthuman will have evolved into a more efficient being.

We don't know where we're headed but we're going somewhere

We don’t know where we’re headed but we’re going somewhere. Image by Flickr User woodleywonderworks / Creative Commons licensed BY 2.0

Some, including myself, claim that machines can carry out calculations but they cannot have willpower/control. Hayles simply answers that willpower is just a concept that our human consciousness has created to help explain the sequence of events occurring in our chaotic environment, which are actually quite random. This reading was quite dense, I honestly didn’t understand many of the technicalities that Hayles uses; hopefully, in class, we can sift through it together and get a better understanding.

Class Questions

It’s hard to imagine that the rise of white supremacist sites began when I was born. Have these sites contributed to a modern education of race that is much different than the education taught before?

Of the two options that Daniels discusses, which approach do you think is more effective: advocating software filters or convicting/punishing those who commit online hate crimes?

What are the limits of the government—can they actually do anything about these online actions? Furthermore, how do you think a government should react to a violent public attack (in the real world) that is claimed to be motivated by white supremacist sites?

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