Volume 92, Issue 52

Friday, December 4, 1998

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Unregulated format creates concern

By Christina Vardanis
Gazette Staff

While the internet has garnered itself the reputation as an unmediated resource available to the general public, Michael Mehta, a policy analyst and professor at Queen's University, has suggested its open format may be too unregulated for the public good.

Mehta, who specializes in the internet, said he has researched over 250 web sites designed by organized hate groups and concluded these groups are exploiting the internet for club recruitment and coordination. Some of the sites Mehta included in his study were Skinheads USA and The Watchman.

"The number of online hate groups has grown dramatically," Mehta said, adding the incidence of hate-related crimes across North America is on the rise.

Nick Dyer-Witheford, a professor in the media, information and technoculture program at Western agreed obtaining access to such sites is extremely easy. "They're perfectly obvious."

Still, Dyer-Witheford noted there are plenty of sites in which activists can counteract the views stated by the organized hate groups. "I am supportive of initiatives taken by net users to fight fire with fire and use the net as a vehicle to confront racist views," he said. "These are sites by artists with the intention to provide counter resources."

While the Canadian Criminal Code prohibits hate and genocidal speech in a public place against any identifiable group, there are disagreements over exactly what kind of forum the internet represents, leaving it open for any group to inhabit.

"It depends on whether we define it as a broadcaster or a common carrier," Mehta said. He added he believed in this case the Criminal Code is becoming obsolete and thinks regulation would be an effective way of curbing the material online.

Dyer-Witheford was not convinced website hate material is the only factor in determining a person's opinion towards discrimination. "It comes down to a matter of commitment and dedication of people to their political ideas," he said. "There's nothing intrinsic to the web that favours those who would perpetrate hatred rather than those for cooperation and human caring."

Alnawaz Jiwa, a second-year actuarial science student, said a certain amount of regulation should apply to the internet if it means crime would decrease. "Canada is a multicultural society," Jiwa stated. "If we can bring down the crime rate, then we should."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998