In today’s digital world groups increasingly troll the Internet, depositing easily available and intriguing materials — music, posters, jokes, cartoons, and stories — whose sole purpose is to introduce growing children to hate. Over recent years this readily available propaganda, designed expressly to appeal to teen sarcasm, edgy humor, and musical preferences, strives to look like any other funny or absurd digital content a student might casually discover. Except that it’s not funny.
It’s also not something for parents to scare. The simple fix is for parents and educators to talk with children, mentoring them, helping them learn to evaluate, guiding them to develop an eagle eye that identifies and filters hateful content — exactly what you teach them to do with any other inappropriate content.
All of us — educators, parents, and especially adolescents — need to know how to recognize this type of information and how to alert others. Hate groups look for vulnerable pre-adolescents and teens from every socioeconomic group. The level of education in a child’s home and an emphasis on values of respect and acceptance may not make a difference if a child, during an especially needy, lonely, or stressful time or through an error in judgment, encounters a clever hate group tactic. Many children are simply attracted by absurdity, laughing at symbols they know little about. That’s also when a group may try, if it has even a bit of personal information, to encourage an adolescent to come back, laugh some more, and maybe even make a friend.
Hate groups have become more active and more visible since President Obama’s 2008 election, but these organizations, some quite small, have courted young people for years. An old, but still relevant Salon Magazine article, Web of Hate, described the problem as it existed on the Internet in 1998, providing good background. The issue, however, is far more serious today.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) spends a considerable amount of its time and money tracking purveyors of hate. Its website features an interactive hate map and also provides first-rate resources that parents, teachers, and religious leaders can use when hateful content surfaces or when it’s necessary to actually fight recruitment tactics. The map, by the way, is an extraordinary teaching tool in itself, but so are the SPLC intelligence files such as this one on the Ku Klux Klan.
An essay by Heidi Beirich describes the white power racist music industry and some of its recruitment strategies. In an article in the California-based, East Country Magazine, James McElroy, a chairman of the SPLC board comments:
We try to shine a little light on it. Hate is like a fungus under a rock. Shine a light and you can eradicate it.
Premiered in October 2010 SPLC’s anti-bullying film, Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History, addresses hate issues. Parents may want to make this film available through their churches, congregations, or children’s schools. SPLC also publishes a magazine, Teaching Tolerance, available free to educators and for a subscription fee to families — it’s content useful for students of all ages. A blog of the same name posts articles with equity and justice information, updated on a daily basis.
DiversityInc, a leading publication on diversity and business, hosts an article, The Culture of Bullying: Loss of Civility at School, Work, Politics, and it quotes alarming statistics, again from SPLC, about the growing number of hate groups. According to the article:
… the number of extremist groups in the United States climbed 244 percent in 2009, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Specifically, their numbers grew from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009.
The Canadian-based Media Awareness Network features an article, a guide that explains how to recognize and handle online hate, points out how important it is for parents and educators to take action. A third piece explains just how to deconstruct hateful material that’s aimed at youth.
CQ Researcher, no longer a part of Congressional Quarterly, is a monthly publication that concentrates on a single current topic, usually highlighting public policy questions. A May 8, 2009 issue focuses exclusively on hate groups and includes articles, footnotes, and references to books, articles, and reports. It is posted at a Syracuse University website.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) runs an anti-hate website, A Parent’s Guide to Hate on the Internet. One resource, Prejudice: 101 Ways You Can Beat It, is available as a downloadable PDF. Another, What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, provides parents with guidance and conversation points, encouraging parents to initiate the discussions before a child has greater independence on the Internet.
However we do it, we must keep our growing digital children informed (not frightened) about hate movements. Interestingly family and school conversations appear to be about the best tools we have, helping to create a kind of armor for young people who then encounter hate group humor or posters or music and recognize the mockery and deception. Moreover, when conversations underscore the emotion and fear associated with the most reviled symbols of hate — a noose, a white robe, or a burning cross, for instance, students develop even stronger skills and even thicker armor, providing them with even better tools to evaluate hateful propaganda.