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Partner Organizations

Anti-Defamation League


Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence


The Leadership Conference Education Fund

Funded By

Office of Juvenile Deliquency Prevention U.S. Department of Justice


Safe and Drug Free Schools Program U.S. Department of Education

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

Issue/Question:
Can commercial Internet Service Providers (ISP's) prevent the use of their services by extremists?

Suggested Response:

Yes. Commercial ISP's, such as America Online (AOL), may voluntarily agree to prohibit users from sending racist or bigoted messages over their services. Such prohibitions do not implicate First Amendment rights because they are entered into through private contracts and do not involve government action in any way. Once an ISP commits to such regulations, it must monitor the use of its service to ensure that the regulations are followed. If a violation does occur, the ISP should, as a contractual matter, take action to prevent it from happening again. For example, if a participant in a chat room engages in racist speech in violation of the "terms of service" of the ISP, his or her account could be cancelled, or the person could be forbidden from using the chat room in the future. ISP's should encourage users to report suspected violations to company representatives. The effectiveness of this remedy is limited, however. Any subscriber to an ISP who loses his or her account for violating that ISP's regulations may resume propagating hate by subsequently signing up with any of the dozens of more permissive ISP's in the marketplace.
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