Extremism and the Internet (EMAIN)
Project funded by the British Library Research & Innovation Centre
|2.||The Objective of EMAIN
|4.||The EMAIN Project: Work in Progress
|4.1||Extent of Internet usage by extremist groups
|4.2||Technical, legal and ethical issues
The Internet has some 60 million users and that number is doubling every year. The vast majority of this usage is perfectly legitimate, and serves to influence social change. However, there are concerns over the issues of extremism which need to be addressed if the whole of society is to gain from the benefits, and at the same time be protected from the threats, of the new information networks. The timeliness of these concerns is illustrated by the European Year against Racism initiative in 1997. Perhaps it was inevitable that a tool as powerful as the Internet would be misused in the hands of the few. Attention has focused recently on the use of the Internet to transmit pornography, and various solutions have been put forward to restrict and eliminate such mis-use. The issue of racist and other extreme content has not hit the headlines to the same extent, but it is real and dangerous. Funded by The British Library Research and Innovation Centre under the Digital Library Research Programme, the EMAIN Project contributes to our understanding of the nature and extent of these issues. This work in progress report describes research undertaken into the extent of Internet usage by racist and other extremist groups, on the nature of that usage and on the trends which are discernible. It also identifies some of the ethical and legal issues surrounding this area of Internet usage.
Keywords:Internet, extremism, censorship, regulation, filtering, legislation.
This is a Work in Progress article published on 27 February 1998.
Citation: Craven J, 'Extremism and the Internet (EMAIN)', Work in Progress, 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/wip/98_1crav/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_1/craven/>
The Internet, at a conservative estimate, has some 60 million users and it is predicted that this number is doubling every year. While use is concentrated in the developed world, there is increasing access from developing and Third World countries, to which the Internet offers unparalleled opportunities for communication and access to information. The vast majority of this usage is perfectly legitimate, and serves to influence economic, social and cultural change throughout the world. However, there are concerns over the issues of extremism which need to be addressed if the whole of society is to gain from the benefits, and at the same time be protected from the threats, of the new information networks. Library and information services have a key role to play in ensuring a threat-free environment, not least through increasing our understanding of how information channels are being used. The timeliness of these concerns is illustrated by the aims of the European Year against Racism, which is being observed in 1997. In particular the Year aims:
to highlight the threat posed by racism .... to encourage reflection and discussion on measures to combat racism .... to promote the exchange of experience on good practice .... to turn to good account .. the experiences of persons affected .. by racism .....
Perhaps it was inevitable that a tool as powerful as the Internet would be misused in the hands of the few. Attention has focused recently, for good reason, on the use of the Internet to transmit pornography, and various solutions have been put forward to restrict and eliminate such mis-use . The issue of racist and other extreme content has not hit the headlines to the same extent, but it is real and dangerous . The EMAIN Project seeks to contribute to our understanding of the nature and extent of these problems, and to explore ways in which mis-use can be discouraged and controlled. It directly addresses the aims of the BLRIC's Digital Library Research Programme.
The overall aim of the EMAIN Project  is to increase our understanding of the issues of extremist use of networked information services, leading to the identification of specific problem areas and of possible solutions. Objectives of the project are:
- to gather intelligence on the extent of Internet usage
- to explore technical, legal and ethical issues with arise from this context
- to identify policies and initiatives which address the problem of extremist use of the Internet
In exploring the issues of racism and the Internet, the methodology is mainly desk-based research. This has included:
This began by focusing on the definition of terms, which were then used to perform a literature search using on-line services such as BIDS and Dialog. Study of the literature revealed a number of emerging issues surrounding this topic. Broadly speaking these issues have covered the following areas:
- Extremist activity on the Internet
- Ethical issues
- Legal issues
- Policies and initiatives
- Technological issues ie. filtering and regulation
- Stakeholders and responsibility
- Role of libraries and the Internet
The examination is currently at the stage of creating a workable framework for searching. Initial searches using a selection of terms extracted from the literature, which could be deemed racist or extremist, revealed a number of problems relating to the collection of reliable quantitative data.
The main problem to emerge was that with any simple search, a number of duplicate hits and dead links are inevitable. This method also resulted in hundreds of false drops which again may lead to distortion of results i.e. 500 hits may only be 200 in reality. The vast scale of the topic has created an awareness that within the timescale of the project, there was a danger of information overload and of being swamped by interminable synonyms. New political groups and related extremist terms are constantly emerging and determining the most relevant is complicated.
Solutions to the above problems include the possibility of beginning with a 'quick and dirty' search for a wide variety of terms to form a surface examination of the extent of extremist use. Then to focus on those with the most relevant number of hits using follow up searches with more sophisticated Boolean techniques to help eliminate false drops. Combined searching will also be undertaken to link racist terms with abusive language.
A comparison of results will be made across several search engines.
This area of the project is currently in progress by way of a systematic search of web sites belonging to groups which can be defined as 'extremist'. The term 'extremism' can mean different things to different people, therefore the definition has been derived from the parameters set out by the project, and include those groups which have a common link. Groups are linked by the nature of the material they produce, which is likely to raise concern under laws relating to violence and incitement to racial hatred. Sites have been accessed by performing a simple search using search engines such as Alta Vista or Northern Light and using terms which have been extracted from the literature. Groups and terms such as Stormfront and White Supremacy and Aryan are just a few examples identified by Cox (1992), Castles and Miller (1993) and Eatwell (1996).
Predicted trends in usage have also been derived from literature. Eatwell (1996) has identified a number of factors which have influenced the trend towards Internet usage by extremist groups. These factors include:
- Low cost, potentially high-quality presentation, set up and distribution.
- Audience variety and the ability to tailor messages.
- Ability to create an effective sense of community.
- Ability to bypass national laws and boundaries.
Other trends in usage by extremist groups such as the far right have been identified by Whine (1997). These show an increase in popularity due to the fact that the Internet reaches the youthful and impressionistic, which is an audience extremists most want to influence.
According to Eatwell (1996) the variety of communication media offered by the Internet is another contributory factor leading to this trend. The type of media offered by the Internet includes: email, newsgroups, world wide web; all of which supersede the previously much used Bulletin Boards, which in their time were seen as a new and innovative alternative to printed newsletters and word of mouth communication and networking.
A variety of technical solutions have been identified by Pitman (1997) which could be used to control or monitor the Internet. Filtering software available includes NetNanny Cybersitter and Cyberpatrol. Other methods include rating and labelling services such as PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) which alerts the user to the likely nature of the content they are about to access.
The above solutions have all prompted arguments for and against their usage.
Arguments for filtering include:
- Filtering services which allow users to pick their own terms for blocking will result in less restriction to the freedom of expression.. e.g. just block pornographic sites.
- Improvements to filtering services will mean that bad blocks become less common.
- Public access PCs can provide both filtered and non-filtered options which leave users with a choice - i.e. parental guidance or control can be exerted.
Arguments against filtering include:
- Restriction of freedom of expression
- Bad Blocks e.g. terms such as 'breast' will block out any information on breast cancer.
- Filtering services may impose their own views with regard to what users may access.
Filtering and blocking have raised censorship issues which may come under the laws regarding human rights. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states that:
'Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of borders'.
From a legal perspective, the Internet is a relatively new area. A general lack of legal case studies mean that until laws relating to the Internet are clarified, extremists will generally be able to produce whatever they like so long as it does not break existing laws. Such laws prohibit incitement to hatred and to threaten public order. Studies on the law for this project have shown that the concept of 'old laws, new technology' is proving to be something of a thorn in the flesh, the main issue being that of the problem of globalisation. A useful quote used to illustrate this problem is taken from the net censorship activist Weitzner (In Gardner, 1997) who states that there are 'more than 150 countries on the Net and more than 150 ideas about what should be legal or illegal'.
The project is undertaking an extensive study into legislation and the Internet and has found to date that there is no one definitive law that can be related solely to the Internet and dissemination of its content. Thus exists a combination of legislation, policies and recommendations. Suggestions as to how this area can be improved upon include the possible standardisation of regulations through international co-operation.
Ethical, issues relating to extremist use of the Internet can be placed in line with legal issues. Freedom of speech for example is an area of great concern to those who wish to put forward ideas and opinions. What one person may see as extremist may appear to be quite innocuous to another and this perhaps is the crux of the ethical argument. Censorship and filtering of information have been the focus of some legal battles relating to library censorship and the Constitutional rights of the people in the US. Pressure groups in the US believe that despite the Library Bill of Rights, filters in public libraries are a necessity. The EMAIN project has looked at several case studies in this area, together with alternative solutions which may help to form the basis of a standard approach to 'regulation' of the Internet. Developments in Europe include an Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet  as well as a Working Party on illegal and harmful content on the Internet , and the setting up of 'hot lines' and self-regulatory bodies in several European countries.
The right to privacy is another ethical issue that has caused heated arguments. Many people feel that they should have the right to communicate and disseminate information without disclosing their identity - particularly in countries that are politically sensitive. The counter argument to this is what about the rights of those subjected to racist or extremist abuse via email? There is no easy answer to this argument and the pros and cons of encryption continue, and will no doubt do so until some decision is made as to where the Internet lies in terms of communication - should it be treated as a published medium or as a telecommunication medium?
One of the major issues for debate is over who should be regarded as responsible for Internet content. There are several trains of thought revealed in the literature, for example by Nicolle (1996), Barrett (1996) and Miller (1996) on this subject:
- Content providers - it is technically difficult to trace and monitor every part of the Internet
- Service Providers - the pre-censoring of all content which goes through the system would have implications for freedom of speech.
- Individual - responsibility in the hands of the individual through self-regulation and hotlines seems to be a popular solution.
An initial study of Acceptable Use Documents  relating to the use of IT facilities has revealed that in the UK, many academic institutions include the JANET Acceptable Use Policy  into their policies. This document may be interpreted to include use of the Internet.
Policy documents often state that users must 'not bring the Higher Education Institutions into disrepute'. Defining what this means may be a problem and without regular monitoring of Internet usage this may also be difficult to establish, but monitoring itself may raise ethical questions of rights to privacy and anonymity.
Research undertaken for the EMAIN project has identified initiatives and policies developed with the aim of addressing issues such as regulation of the Internet, legislation to combat harmful and illegal use, and policies to promote safe use of the Internet. A number of organisations have also arisen in light of these existing and proposed measures for regulation. The following section lists examples of the findings.
- Internet Content Task-Force set up in Germany as a regulatory body. (Grossman, 1996)
- 'Hot-lines' set up across many European member states. (European Commission (1997) Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet
- European Council Resolution on illegal and harmful content on the Internet: to encourage self-regulatory systems, provision of filtering mechanisms and rating systems and look further into the issue of legal liability. Resolution of the Council of the European Union and the Representatives of the Member States meeting within the Council OJ No.C70, 6.3.97 p.1 <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/resol.html>
- European Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet including self-regulation; filtering and rating; and awareness <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/actplan.html>
- The American Library Association states that the use of filtering software in libraries blocks access to constitutionally protected speech and therefore 'violates the Library Bill of Rights' (Minow 1997).
- Many American public libraries now include paragraphs about awareness and parental guidance in their policies in order not to violate the legislation .
- June 1996 The Communications Decency Act was declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the laws relating to freedom of speech under the First Ammendment 
Internet Content Register
Campaign for Internet Freedom
Internet Watch Foundation
Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign
The relative 'newness' of the Internet, and the issues that arise from it has meant that much of the work on this project to date has merely touched the surface of identifying implications that unrestricted access to electronic communication and dissemination offer.
The project has revealed that there are no simple solutions to the emerging problems surrounding use of the Internet. Problems brought about by enforcing the laws of different countries on this global network; the ethical problem of restricting individual rights to freedom of expression and to privacy and anonymity whilst at the same time protecting individuals from extremist views and possible abuse, such as incitement to violence on ground of race or culture.
Work in progress on the EMAIN project will continue to gather information in line with the project aims and objectives, and as a result, the subsequent report will aim to raise awareness, and hopefully provide pointers to possible solutions and towards further research in this area.
Pitman, A.A. (1997) Feasibility of censoring and jamming pornography and racism in informatics: final report to the STOA Panel of the European Parliament (HA014D005b/0.1 Draft) (Smith Systems Engineering)
Weitzner, D., (1997) Center for Democracy and Technology, In: Gardner, Elizabeth Beyond U.S., many nations censor 'offensive' sites. <http://www.internetworld.com/print/1997/07/07/news/19970707-nations.html>
Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign <http://www.eff.org/blueribbon.html>
Campaign for Internet Freedom <http://www.netfreedom.org/>
European Commission: Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet, 26 Nov. 1997 <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/actplan.html>
Internet Content Register <http://www.internet.org.uk/>
Internet Watch Foundation <http://www.iwf.org.uk/>
Resolution of the Council of the European Union and the Representatives of the Member States meeting within the Council OJ No.C70, 6.3.97 p.1. <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/resol.html>
 The Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS), launched during 1996 by the World Wide Web consortium, is gaining widespread acceptance and is included as a standard feature in Microsoft Explorer 3.0 and Netscape 3.0.
 A recent example would be the story reported in The Independent on Sunday on 1st December 1996 under the headline 'Internet Nazis salute 'all-white' Blackburn', an account of how racists across Europe had joined together to 'celebrate' Blackburn football club's all-white team, broadcasting information across the Internet.
 EMAIN Project web site: <http://www.uclan.ac.uk/research/centre/cerlim/projects/emain.htm>
 Article 10, European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
 European Commission. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet. 26 November 1997. <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/actplan.html>
 European Commission. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet. 26 November 1997. <http://www2.echo.lu/legal/en/internet/actplan.html> p.14.
 Examples of Acceptable Use Policies can be obtained from: <http://www.ex.ac.uk/~ijtilsed/lib/uklibs.html>
 Examples: Las Vegas-Clark County Library <http://www.lvccld.lib.nv.us/policy.shtml>
Charlotte Mecklenburg County Public Library <http://www.plcmc.lib.nc.us/find/policy/internet.htm>