Eastern Michigan expert to discuss dramatic increase of hate messages in cyberspace

by Pamela Young, Published August 01, 2012

YPSILANTI - Hate speech is nothing new. What has changed, though, is its dramatic increase in visibility and intensity, thanks to the Internet.

Jack Kay, an expert on extremist groups, will explore hate speech in cyberspace, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m., at the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, 28123 Orchard Lake Rd. in Farmington Hills. The event is free and open to the public.

"Hate messages have always been in the background of political and social rhetoric, regardless of the specific medium," says Kay, a professor in communication, media and theatre arts at Eastern Michigan University.

"The messages are not new. What is new is the ease by which those messages can be both broadcast and narrowcast, and the ability of people to take in such messages anonymously and vicariously."

Narrowcasting, or target marketing, involves aiming media messages at specific segments of the public, usually by radio or television.

Jack Kay, expert on extremist groups

Kay, who specializes in the power of language, is nationally known for his extensive research on the communications strategies of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and neo-Nazi skinheads.

Just as political campaigns are becoming more sophisticated in their information gathering and ability to target messages, "purveyors of hate" are learning to target their messages to sympathizers and recruits, according to Kay.

"Hate speech in cyberspace has grown dramatically, due to the unregulated nature of the Internet, and the polarization that seems to have gripped U.S. politics," he says. "When one looks at the blogosphere, websites or Internet chats, messages have become more strident and vicious."

For example, Kay cites the reaction of hate groups to Barack Obama's inauguration.

"On the eve of President Obama's inauguration, hate messages aimed at the president were rampant on many white supremacist websites," he said.

Although the public's initial reaction to hate messages is to call for regulating cyberspace, such as making hate speech illegal as other countries do, Kay believes education is more effective in bringing down cyberspace hate.

"Hate messages are old and tired, yet repackaged in the new media," he says. "Just as we used to teach citizens how to detect and fight propaganda, we must teach the current generation to spot the glittering generality and appeal to those who sympathize with these messages.

"We must recognize the importance of speaking up. Failure to denounce hate speech is tacit acceptance of such speech."

Kay is the author of numerous books and articles on communication, rhetoric and argumentation. He has testified on extremist groups before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and frequently lectures on hate music, hate messages in cyberspace, and the Internet and anti-Semitism.

For more information about the program, contact Eastern Michigan Jewish Studies program at jewish.studies@emich.edu


Pamela Young

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