The New York Times ran an April 13 story noting that, for three years, an anti-Semitic website called JewWatch.com was the first search result listed when anyone typed the word jew into leading Web search engine Google.
According the article, the search result was due to the way Google’s algorithms ranked and returned sites and not to any nefarious design on the part of the search engine itself. In response, Google said it wouldn’t change how its algorithms work, nor would it remove the Jew Watch site from its listings, because while offensive to many, the Jew Watch site isn’t illegal. Indeed, a search of “jew” as of mid-May still returned an archived version of the Jew Watch site first, although Google has added a note about offensive search results that includes links to sites about Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League.
The Times story highlighted the growing phenomenon of online hate sites, according to SurfControl, an e-mail filtering company. From 2000 through April 2004, the number of sites dedicated to hate and violence surged by more than 300 percent, increasing from 2,756 to 10,926. And anti-Semitism isn’t the only message such sites spew; according to SurfControl, there has been a proliferation of hate sites against African-Americans, Americans, homosexuals and Muslims.
Those offended by hate sites are fighting back by preemptively registering domain names they suspect hate groups would seek. (Cybersquatting emerged when some early Web users registered the dotcom names of well-known brands.)
Melissa Hill, founder and webmaster of Cybersquatters Against Hate (www.cybersquattersagainsthate.com), has made it her mission to combat hate sites. Like Google, Hill doesn’t think hate sites should be banned or removed from the Web. “The best thing any search engine can do is work to improve its technology so that the most relevant sites are ranked the highest,” Hill says. Hill, who describes Cybersquatters as a loose coalition of concerned citizens, is doing her best to steer people away from hate sites by advocating registration of domain names similar to the ones used by well-known hate groups. Hence, Cybersquatters has registered jewwatch.net, aryan-nations.com and www.new blackpantherparty.org, among others.
It could take some time for them to make a difference. At press time in mid-June, jewwatch.com was still in a user’s first screen, second from the top, behind an online encyclopedia.