It is a truism that the power of the Internet is to allow for the proliferation and dissemination of information without passing through central sources (newspapers, radio, TV) that would screen or block them. The advantages are obvious: repressive governments can be pressured by bloggers, writers and artists who are given a forum for bringing their work directly to viewers, and so forth. The danger, of course, of not having barriers to putting out information is that a lot of junk gets out there that a responsible central source (an editor, a journalist) might filter out or at least provide some perspective on. (“All the news that’s fit to print” is still an operative category: I may want untrammeled access to information, but I also want discerning people who are held to high standards of integrity to offer their honest opinions on which information is worth paying attention to).
The darkest side of this dark side of the Internet is the proliferation of hate groups: the Internet is a perfect medium for those who have been marginalized in getting their message out in more traditional ways. Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League monitor online hate group activity and put out their own counter-messages. Given the realities of the Internet, as well as the principles of free speech, it is virtually impossible to shut hate groups down and prevent them from spreading their venom. Instead, the best we can do is to consistently combat their claims in the marketplace of ideas (on the principle that sunshine is the best disinfectant), continue to be sure their message is marginalized in mainstream media, and vigorously pursue criminal cases against the organizations and their leaders since they are often involved in a wide variety of illegal pursuits (from tax evasion to money laundering to theft) to fund their operations.