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AOL criticized for Klan site

The Anti-Defamation League calls for America Online to adhere to its own guidelines regarding "hate material."

Caught in an escalating debate over online censorship, America Online is facing strong criticism for a Web page stored on its system that promotes the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Anti-Defamation League said late today that it sent a letter to AOL chief executive Steve Case, calling on the company to adhere to its own guidelines regarding "hate material with equal vigilance as those regarding pornography."

The case raises difficult questions for AOL and other online services. AOL, for example, must balance its family-oriented image and business model while addressing free-speech issues as it attempts to provide as much Internet material as possible without offending its members.

In response to the Anti-Defamation League's letter, AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said: "This is the sort of issue that concerns us, [but] we have no editorial control of the Web." She added: "For the time being, we are looking at this as a site on the Web. We're constantly reassessing our policies."

Michael Lowe, regional director of the KKK in Waco, Texas, which operates the site, said: "We are just exercising what we think are our beliefs. There's no hate on our Web site. Hopefully they will not censor it."

The Web site has been offered for about a month and has attracted about 7,400 visitors, Lowe said.

In his letter to Case, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said: "Your 'Rules of the Road' prohibit attacks based on a number of characteristics, including a person's race, national origin, ethnicity or religion. They clearly state that 'hateful language is not allowed.'"

Foxman went on to say: "While we strongly believe in freedom of speech and do not advocate censorship on the Internet, we expect these companies that have created guidelines to adhere to them."

The letter came after reports surfaced last week that an AOL member in Texas canceled his subscription because he was angry about the Ku Klux Klan Web site. He called on AOL to remove the page.

The page states: "The great calling of our movement is to secure the preservation, protection and advancement of the White race and to enrich our people spiritually, morally and materially. We must begin to restore order in the places where we live and work."

It also includes links to other Klan Web sites. It also explains Klan traditions. For example: "The fiery cross is used as a Klan symbol representing the ideals of Christian civilization."

According to the ADL, "While the materials accessible through the Klan page may not contain explicit calls for violence, they reflect hate, vulgarity, and abuse far more profound and troubling."