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Fourth Law & Information Society Symposium

March 26, 2010

Hate Versus Democracy on the Internet

From political blogs to the exposure of rights abuses, the Internet advances communication and the free flow of information that is at the heart of democracy. Yet, from Holocaust deniers to terrorist organizers, the Internet also serves as an enabler for extremists promoting hate, violence and the corrosion of democratic values. This conference explored the legal and policy dimensions of the Internet’s dual impact.

Panel 1: The Internet as a Dual Use Technology: Democracy and Extremism

This panel examined the Internet’s dual impact on democracy and extremism. Panel members explored how social networks, blogs and websites have been used simultaneously to spread democracy and promote hate. They discussed the tensions that arise on the Internet between these competing interests.

Zephyr Teachout, Associate Professor of Law, Fordham Law School


  • Bruce Etling, Director of the Internet & Democracy Project, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
  • Holly Hawkins, Director of Consumer Advocacy and Privacy, AOL
  • Alexander Tsesis, Assistant Professor of Law, Loyola University School of Law
  • Mark Weitzman, Director of Task Force on Hate & Terrorism, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Panel 2: Distinguishing Hate Speech from Legitimate Political Expression

This panel explored how we distinguish hate speech from legitimate political expression and whether such a line can be drawn. Panel members considered what characteristics make hate speech dangerous and different from democratic political debate. The panel considered specific examples of online “hate sites” and other ways that the Internet has been used to spread extremist thought.

Ann Bartow, Professor of Law, University of South Carolina School of Law


  • David E. Bernstein, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law
  • Steven J. Heyman, Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law
  • Kenneth Lasson, Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law
  • Nicole Wong, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Google, Inc.

Keynote Address

Jing Zhao (aka Michael Anti)
Political Columnist and Blogger
Harvard Nieman Fellow

Panel 3: Online Hate Speech and Diverse International Concerns

This panel explored the competing cultural concerns about hate speech that make international regulation challenging. Panel members considered how the definition of hate speech and norms about regulation differ internationally.

Julie Suk, Associate Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law


  • Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Professor, Chair in Politics, University of Hull
  • Sandra Coliver, Senior Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Peter Molnar, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Media and Communications Studies, Central European University
  • Philippe A. Schmidt, Lawyer SBKG law firm, Chairman of the International Network Against Cyber Hate and Vice President of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) in charge of International Affairs

Panel 4: How to Combat Hate Speech While Promoting Democracy

This panel explored various ways that we can combat or prevent hate speech online while still allowing robust democratic expression. Panel members considered regulatory and non-regulatory options and discussed which methods best serve the dual goals of promoting democracy and tolerance.

Joel R. Reidenberg, Professor of Law and Academic Director of the Center on Law & Information Policy, Fordham Law School


  • Yaman Akdeniz, Associate Professor in Law, Human Rights Law Research Center, Istanbul Bilgi University & Director, Cyber-Rights.Org
  • Susan Benesch, Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute
  • Danielle Citron, Professor of Law, University of Maryland School of Law
  • Philippe Dufresne, Director & Senior Counsel, Canadian Human Rights Commission