AOL faces hate speech lawsuit

A US citizen is claiming that the ISP has allowed racist views to be expressed in its chatrooms, but AOL denies the charge

AOL Time Warner is facing a lawsuit that accuses AOL of allowing hate speech to be published in its Muslim chat rooms.

The plaintiff, Saad Noah, is alleging that the Internet Service Provider (ISP) allowed offensive comments, which were posted in the "Koran and Beliefs: Islam" chat rooms in 1998 and 1999, to go unsanctioned. Noah says he cancelled his AOL membership after repeatedly asking the company to address the issue.

The lawsuit, which has been filed in the US District Court of Alexandria, is seeking an injunction against AOL that would force the ISP to stop its members from posting offensive opinions. Noah's legal team is basing the case on the argument that a public chat room is a place of entertainment, which should thus be free of harassment under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to reports AOL intends to fight the lawsuit, which it claims is total without merit. Spokesman Andrew Weinstein told the Associated Press that AOL has a zero tolerance approach to hate speech. "When a complaint is brought to our attention, our staff review it and can take action ranging from a reprimand to cancellation of service," Weinstein claimed, according to AP

Noah has said that his primary objective is to make AOL enforce the terms of its service agreement within Muslim chat rooms. He would like to speak with AOL executives, and would like an agreement to be reached before the case comes to trial.

Earlier this year UK police said that rival chatroom provider Yahoo! US was not breaking any British laws by hosting racist propaganda on its American chatrooms. The company refused to discuss the issue with ZDNet.

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