Von: <sipila@kominf.pp.fi>
An: <kominform@lists.EUnet.fi>
Betreff: Yahoo! admits deleting anti-US posts
Datum: Donnerstag, 22. November 2001 05:59

From: Barry Stoller <bstoller@utopia2000.org>

Subject: [L-I] Yahoo! admits deleting anti-US posts

[A couple of days late -- but a significant story nonetheless...]

Washington Post. 19 November 2001. Screening Free Speech?

Yahoo's message boards are erupting with the kind of free-flowing,
impassioned discussions the Internet's creators always dreamed of, with
postings about practically every aspect of the hunt for terrorists, the
capture of Kabul and mysterious plane crashes.

But what's also revealing is what is being deleted.

Gone are some gloating messages that say America deserved the attacks.

Gone are some links to extremist sites promoting a jihad, or holy war,
against the Western world.

Gone too is a sarcastic note posted by college student Usman Sheikh:

"America succesfully [sic] attacks terrorists, pinpoint smart bombing,"
the note began, linking to pictures of bloody children who were hurt or
killed as a result of the recent military raids.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based online company, which runs the most popular
destination on the World Wide Web, removed the note soon after it was
posted, drawing applause from those who say they're happy to see that
the Internet is finally getting a conscience.

But others worry about what such censorship by the likes of America
Online, MSN and Lycos means for a medium widely regarded as a haven for
free speech and openness.

"The Western media and politicians keep talking about their freedom of
speech, freedom of expression and how they are against the censoring of
different views... yet they are no different from any oppressive Third
World country or any dictatorship," Sheikh, 20, said in an interview.

While many perceive the Internet as a public sidewalk where people are
protected by federal law, it really operates more like a collection of
private buildings run by for-profit businesses that have the legal right
to screen their content as they please.

People who come to the Web sites must obey the companies' "terms of
service" agreements, which are in their simplest terms long lists of
legally binding do's and don'ts.

Yahoo and other companies use similar language to prohibit the posting
of anything that's "unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing,
tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another's
privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable."

In the past, "we would err on the side of 'If it's distasteful, let it
stay,' " said Stephen Killeen, president of Terra Lycos U.S. "Now, we
err on the side of 'If you want to post this kind of information, you
don't have to do it here.' "

"The sentiment in the United States changed on September 11 about what's
acceptable and what's not in terms of what you can say," Killeen

Regardless of their legal standing, some worry that the Internet
companies are moving more aggressively in recent weeks to screen content
on their sites.

"In times of war, there has been a willingness among Americans to give
up some rights -- to honor curfews, martial law and even restrictions on
speech... The filtering of Internet message boards is part of all this,"
said Stuart Biegel, a professor at the University of California at Los
Angeles who specializes in law and cyberspace.

Some say Internet companies are screening material with a double
standard -- supporting patriotic messages while frowning on those that
criticize the government's actions.

In some cases, people say, anti-U.S. or anti-Israeli messages appear to
be deleted faster and more frequently than anti-Arab posts.

Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the the Arab-American
Anti-Discrimination Committee, said some Internet companies have been
slow to respond to concerns expressed by Muslims.

"We have had several cases reported to us of postings by people with
Arab-sounding names being taken down because they expressed a different
point of view. Likewise, we've been told of harassing messages against
people of Arab descent not being taken down," she said.

Yahoo has deleted a note calling someone a "zionist israeli scum bag."
But another message -- "Muslims are against the jews because muslims are
too greedy. They want to take israels teeny weeny land. That's how
greedy and parasitic these muslims are. America should wipe them all
out." -- has remained up for weeks despite several complaints lodged by
users and copied to The Washington Post.

Postings by "heil_bush" appear to have been taken down while those by
"mad_muhammed," "burn_islam" and "endless_flood_of_islamic_blood" remain

Shiekh, who has been frequenting the Yahoo message boards for two years,
said people's opinions should not be censored.

[N.B.] Earlier this month, he tried four times to post variations of his
message about children being injured in the U.S. raids but each one was
deleted within a few hours.

He's also complained to Yahoo repeatedly about messages that he says
express anti-Arab sentiment, only to get a form letter in return
thanking him for his input.

If the company can be so aggressive about taking down his messages, he
said, "surely Yahoo can do much, much more to take action against the
numerous hatemongers and racists we have plaguing the Islamic [message]
boards making racist posts everyday and using all the filth at their

Yahoo spokeswoman Nicki Dugan said the company does not actively police
its boards but simply responds to complaints from users and removes
material at the discretion of the team of screeners. Each complaint is
evaluated individually, she added, and action is taken within 24 hours.

"We're straddling the fine line between enabling people to communicate
freely and preventing people from posting things that are unlawful or
harmful in any way," she said.

Indeed, some complain that Yahoo doesn't do enough to police its site.
In a note posted on a financial message board this week, one person
called on the online service and the FBI to be more vigilant. "Can you
please explain why... some anti-American [expletive] on this board has
not been sniffed out and snuffed out yet?" the correspondent wrote.

Another protested: "I can't believe that Yahoo lets [people post]
anti-American celebrations."

A 36-year-old businessman who goes by the online alias "spiderrico" said
he has been shocked by some messages he's read on Yahoo that say America
should blame itself for the attacks on the World Trade Center and
Pentagon. He said he is conflicted about how Yahoo should deal with the

"I know freedom of speech is important, but at a time like this I don't
want to read messages sympathizing with the terrorists," he said in an

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Barry Stoller
with continuing coverage of WWIII


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