Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sue Scheff: Teens and Hate Websites

“Hate, unfortunately – it’s a virus. There’s been racism, anti-Semitism. There’s been discrimination against people throughout the ages. The Internet just provides an instant tool and access to it.”

– Deborah Lauter, Anti-Defamation League

By some estimates, 70 million kids are logging onto the Internet every day, and many are viewing sites that are increasingly disturbing.

Jesse Granger, 15, says, “I’ve come across hate websites. There was one about the Ku Klux Klan, and it had a lot of pictures of recent parades and marches.”

Sixteen-year-old Quincy Kelly saw a web site that “was talking about how slaves should be happy that they got brought over to America from Africa.”

Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League has been monitoring these sites for years. “Hate, unfortunately – it’s a virus,” she says. “There’s been racism, anti-Semitism. There’s been discrimination against people throughout the ages. The Internet just provides an instant tool and access to it.”

It’s also a sophisticated tool, especially in terms of attracting young web surfers.

Lauter says, “Some of the [hate] websites actually have games for children. The websites are attractive visually. There are puzzles, word games – it’s pretty sick when you look at them.”

And kids don’t even have to be looking for them to inadvertently access them.

“A perfect example would be a student doing Internet research and they plug in something as simple as ‘Martin Luther King,’ which is a very typical one. And some of these racist websites will be accessed and a kid could go on and start researching and think what’s there is fact,” says Lauter.

That’s where parents come in, she says, to make sure their kids are aware.

“[Children] need to understand to look at things critically,” says Lauter. “They need to understand that not everything on the Internet or everything they read is the truth.”

And as kids become more sophisticated and Internet savvy, they will learn to weed out fiction from fact.

Matthew Burnett, 14, agrees. “If you use your common sense you can see through most of it,” he says.

And 15-year-olds Kelly Raines and Rebecca Turner say, “I think that if people are going to put that on, they’re going to put that on. And it’s just a matter of whether you take it, or like, just be like, ‘that’s stupid.’ I’m not going to worry about that.”

Tips for Parents

The Internet has opened the door to a wealth of information at our fingertips. But it has also brought instant accessibility to illegal drugs, pornography, hate websites and more. It’s important to set guidelines regarding your child’s Internet usage. Consider these important steps from the University of Oklahoma police department:

Learn about the Internet – If you are just starting out, see what information and classes are offered by your local library, community center, schools or newspaper.
Get Involved – Spend time online with your child -- at home, at the library or at a computer center in your community. Your involvement in your child's life includes his/her online life. Your participation and guidance is important to help ensure your child’s Internet safety.
Stay Informed – Learn about the latest parental control tools that can help you keep your child safe online. Stay abreast of what’s in the news about kids and web sites.
Become an Advocate for Kids – If you see online material or practices you do not like, contact your Internet Service Provider (the company that provides you with a connection to the Internet) or the company that created the material. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to help this growing medium develop in positive ways for kids.
According to, there are steps you can take to help prevent your child from seeing inappropriate content on the Internet. Consider the following suggestions:

In an online public area such as a chat room or bulletin board, never give out identifying information, including name, home address, school name or telephone number.
In an email, do not give out identifying information unless you are certain you are giving it to someone both you and your child know and trust. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status or financial information. Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child's name if your service allows it.

Get to know the sites and services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, have your child show you. Find out what types of information the services and websites offer, how trustworthy the information is and if parents can block objectionable material.

Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission.

Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear people over the Internet, it is easy for them to misrepresent themselves. For example, someone who says he/she is an expert in a certain field may actually be a biased individual with an agenda or someone with harmful intentions.

Not everything you read online is true. Be wary of any offers that require you to come to a meeting or have someone visit your house. Also, research several different sources of information before referring to something you read on the Internet as “fact.”

Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your kids’ compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s or teenager's excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may indicate a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.

Make computers a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know your children’s "online friends" just as you do their other

Federal Bureau of Investigation
National Center for Health Statistics
Smart Parent
The Police Notebook
The University of Illinois