The ADL, an organization devoted to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry, said it asked Yahoo in a letter last month to shut down communities on its Yahoo Clubs service belonging to members who support prominent hate groups, including the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the National Association for the Advancement of White People, and the World Church of the Creator.
Today, the ADL said it isn't satisfied with Yahoo's performance.
"We're extremely disappointed that while other Internet service providers have been responsive to living up to the standards of their service guidelines and to concerns raised by ADL, Yahoo continues to ignore its own policy and us by playing host to racist and anti-Semitic clubs," Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director, said in a statement. "In turning a blind eye to these hate clubs, Yahoo is enabling haters to organize, attract recruits and disseminate offensive material and messages."
Mark Hull, Yahoo Clubs' senior producer, said the company responded to the ADL's letter and "took action" with the clubs named in the letter. He did not elaborate on what kind of action was involved or whether the clubs were removed, however.
"Yahoo really strives to promote inclusiveness and a wide range of free expression," Hull said. "But for content with the sole purpose of promoting hatred, we'll evaluate it and in some cases remove it."
Jordan Kessler, the ADL's senior research analyst, said Yahoo appeared to have taken down at least one club, NS88, in response to the letter; NS88 stands for National Socialism Heil Hitler (H being the eighth letter of the alphabet).
But he said others remain active.
A random search of the Yahoo site today revealed several clubs that appeared to promote racially charged views, including "SC Aryan Nation," "Racialist Club of America" and "IKA Pennsylvania's Ku Klux Klan."
The conflict underscores the challenge for online services and Web sites to balance free speech and maintain a nonhostile environment for their members.
America Online has faced similar criticism from the ADL. In 1997, the organization sent a letter to AOL chief executive Steve Case asking the company to shut down a Web page stored on its system promoting the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. AOL eventually removed the site as well as others and instituted stricter rules governing hate speech on its service, according to the ADL.
Now, under similar circumstances, the ADL is asking Yahoo to crack down on alleged violators of its terms of service.
Yahoo Clubs allows people to create online communities, or virtual meeting grounds arranged by topic that others can join. Club members can post notices on a message board, chat with other members, or post pictures and text. As a condition of signing up for Yahoo's services, however, members agree to be bound by certain rules.
Under Yahoo's terms of service agreement, people must agree not to post content that is "unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortuous, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable." The company also bars people from sending bulk email, disseminating computer viruses, and impersonating another's identity.
If people violate the rules, Yahoo has the power to kick them off the site. But the company has so far endorsed a hands-off enforcement policy.
According to Hull, the company does not actively police its clubs. Rather, it provides the virtual real estate and tools to build these communities and then relies on self-governance.
The ADL said it simply wants Yahoo members to respect the company's existing policies.
"Our ultimate goal is not to attack Yahoo or any other company," Kessler said. "Our ultimate goal is to work with Yahoo or other companies to ameliorate this problem."