INTERNET TRAVELLER By Hilary Ostrov C.W.*


In the May 17 issue of the JB, I read a very cogent and passionate article by Prof. Arnold Ages, headlined "Free speech has its limits: Absolute freedoms simply cannot exist in the real world." In the cyber-world the debate over this issue is one in which I have frequently become embroiled.

There is no question that some of the most unsightly litter on the electronic highway is purposely dumped by those whose aim is to delude the passers-by who might pick it up. A lot of it ends up in the newsgroup alt.revisionism. That's the bad news. But the good news is that along with this daily dose of denier drivel, one cannot avoid seeing the factual debunking of these bits and bytes of vitriolic distortions.

On the Web, anyone and everyone can become a self-published author. And the Holocaust deniers are no exception. Ernst Zundel's webmaster informs her readers that "Our Zundelsite visitor count for April was 2 shy of 9,000" Interestingly enough, she does not specify whether these are "actual visitors" or "hits". Is there a difference? You bet there is! One visitor to a webpage containing three images would register as four "hits" - one for the text and one for each of the images. But I'll be generous and give the Zundelsite the benefit of statistical doubt.

By comparison, Ken McVay's Nizkor Project has had a very steadily growing number of "real" cyber-visitors. In June 1995, shortly after the Nizkor debut, there were 33 visitors per day. By January 1996 there were 353 visitors per day. And in April 1996 there were 912 visitors per day. Hmmm ... now let me get my calculator ... 30 days in April, this means that this poor beleaguered bastion of doublespeak has been out-visited on a scale of 3:1 or, to be more precise, 27,360 to 8, 998.

At any given time, a web server (computer on which information is stored) can respond to a finite number of requests. The bad news is that, with the current equipment, Nizkor has almost reached its capacity - and sadly will have to turn away "visitors" seeking facts.

Meanwhile, on the anti-censorship battle-front, I watch the "absolutists" in action. Ever since January of this year, when print media headlines were inaccurately shouting "Simon Wiesenthal Centre [SWC] calls for censorship/banning" (truth is, they've only called for a "voluntary code of conduct" by service providers), those of us who believe in "truth in posting" have been persistent in the struggle to keep context alive and well and living in cyberspace.

Just the other day, I saw a post on the fight-censorship mailing list in which a reference to SWC as "censorhappy" was juxtaposed with a description of Holocaust denier, Arthur Butz's webpage as "controversial". Sad to say, I was royally flamed by absolutists who took exception to my asking the poster whether there is a difference between "controversy" and "lies".

But the good news is that after explaining my "position", I did receive an e-mail from an admitted "freedom-of- speech absolutist" in which he concluded: "You ... assert that Holocaust deniers are all conscious liars rather than wishful thinkers; I have never knowingly met one, thank God, and so will have to defer to your presumably greater familiarity with the species. I really hate to do so because of the awful implication involved. A self-deluder might be a dupe and an enabler of some future fascist regime, and that would be bad enough; but a conscious liar who knows what really happened is clearly slavering to start it happening again. (I have to keep telling myself, 'No, no, censorship is bad, it doesn't work...')"


*Hilary Ostrov is a Chartered Webaholic, who lives in New Westminster, BC. When not busy "surfing the net", she is a consultant and educator who offers Internet "driving lessons", hypertext authoring and design of World Wide Web "Home Pages", and computer- related training. She can be contacted via e-mail (hostrov@telus.net) or telephone (604) 525-3055

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Copyright © 1996 Hilary Ostrov

This article was submitted for publication and appeared in the The Western Jewish Bulletin, Vol. LXIII, No. 22

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