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Commentary Culture

How the internet helps spread hate, Nazi views

Editor's note: A New York Times profile is being criticized for normalizing a Nazi sympathizer's views and failing to explain why he thinks that way. But it's no mystery. We blame the internet.

You can't miss the rise of hate, racism and the neo-Nazi movement on the internet. But somehow, The New York Times did. A Saturday profile of a Nazi sympathizer drew widespread criticism for giving Tony Hovater, 29, an unchallenged platform for sharing his views.

Hovater is described as "the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key." He's "an organizer, an occasional podcast guest on a website called Radio Aryan, and a self-described 'social media villain,' although, in person, his Midwestern manners would please anyone's mother." He thinks the Holocaust wasn't as bad as history tells us, and says Hitler "was a lot more kind of chill on [exterminating] Slavs and homosexuals."

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Aaron Robinson/CNET

On Sunday, the paper's National Editor Marc Lacey said The New York Times regretted the "degree to which the piece offended so many readers." The day before, reporter Richard Fausset said he failed to tell the story he'd been searching for.

"There is a hole at the heart of my story," he wrote. "Why did this man -- intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases -- gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?"

The answer sits right in his pocket. In all our pockets, actually. As BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel -- and others writing for Salon, The Atlantic, Vox Media and The Washington Post point out, The New York Times failed to examine Hovater's online influences.

Websites, online communities and organizations have been key to the recent uptick in racism and extremism, something the CNET News team has written about at length. This past summer, we published a special report called "iHate" -- the result of a three months' exploration of online hate and its impact on people and society.  

We think it's worth calling out some of those stories today:

"Here's the brutal reality of online hate" tells stories about some of the victims of internet harassment campaigns.

"This lawsuit could shut internet Nazis down" describes the legal effort to take down The Daily Stormer, "the top hate site in America."

"The history of Pepe the frog" looks at how an internet meme became a symbol of white supremacists and neo-Nazis -- and what Pepe's creator has done to fight back.

"GamerGate to Trump: How video game culture blew everything up" is a look back at early online hate campaigns in the video game industry and how they grew and spread during the 2016 election.

"Here's how trolls treat the women of CNET" gave some of our staff a chance to share how our own readers have attacked reporters and editors.

What do you think? As always, we'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue. 

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.