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US and Europe clash over online hate

Stalemate after two-day conference

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Europe and the US clashed head-on over how to tackle xenophobic material found online, with the European tendency towards tough regulations at odds with US constitutional protection of free speech.

After a two-day conference in Paris this week, the group of international delegates failed to reach the strong consensus people had been hoping for. Instead, they called for greater co-operation between governments and industry to fight the material.

The news comes in the same week as reports that the number websites promoting hate and violence has risen nearly 300 per cent since 2000.

European officials argued that online publishing of racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic materials should be made illegal. This would send a message that the dissemination of hate on the internet would not be tolerated, they said.

However, according to the International Herald Tribune, the US delegates disagreed. Stephan Minikes, US ambassador to the OSCE said that suppressing views was not the correct way forward. "Rather than fear the purveyors of hate, let us confront them in the marketplace of free ideas," he said.

Instead, the US delegates proposed further investigation into how effective banning such material would be. With the Net being the kind of place it is, it is doubtful that legislation would be able to stop the publication of racist or xenophobic material.

Those looking for a positive sign in the deadlock consoled themselves with the thought that the issue was now at least on the global agenda. ®

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