Indeed, it is becoming increasingly rare for an organized hate group not to maintain a “hate site,” a term commonly used to refer to an online Web site containing content that denigrates a particular class of people. Realizing this, some individuals and groups have called for the Unites States to join other countries such as France and Germany in banning hate sites. As this call has intensified, a growing number of legal scholars have explored the constitutional issues that would surround any attempt by the U.S. government to regulate Internet hate sites.
If the U.S. government ever attempts to regulate Internet hate sites, the decision to do so could not, or at least should not, occur inside a vacuum. Hate sites would need to be examined in order to determine if there was a constitutional basis for regulating their content, if not banning them altogether. This is an area in which communication scholars versed in content analysis could have conducted research that further informed the ongoing legal debate about whether hate sites should be regulated. Unlike legal scholars, however, communication scholars have not been as quick to examine the issue, let alone the content, of online hate sites. This is surprising for a variety of reasons. First, communication scholars are armed with a wealth of literature to instruct their examinations of hate site content. Moreover, as Calvert (1997) points out, hate speech is not only a “communication phenomenon” (p. 5), it also “provides an area ripe for further review by communication scholars in the empirical, cultural, and critical traditions” (p. 17). Although written in 1997, Calvert’s statement rings even more true today given the ever-increasing number of hate sites on the Internet.
As a communication scholar, I recognized that there was a need to further analyze the content of Internet hate sites. Analyses of hate site content further inform the debate regarding hate Web site regulation, as well as provide both scholars and nonscholars with a better understanding of what hate sites are and what they are not. There was a particular need to further analyze the content of Web sites maintained by U.S.-based hate groups. The primary justification used for restricting freedom of expression in the United States has been the claim that certain categories of speech represent a danger to American society.