Last week Beth and I had the honor of attending an event held by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). If you’re not familiar with the SLPC, it’s a non-profit that does difficult and often-dangerous legal work and research to fight racial prejudice and injustice, and helps those who could not otherwise afford legal services. It also tracks and fights hate groups including but not limited to the Ku Klux Klan.
Some might think SPLC’s work is less relevant or important than it was back in 1971, when it was founded. Current SPLC President Richard Cohen and SPLC Founder (and current Chief Trial Attorney) Morris Dees made it painfully clear that it’s as big a fight as ever. These folks do an enormous amount of legal grunt work, and they’ve gone up against some very dangerous, ugly people—at real risk to their own lives. (As evidenced by the stout security presence at the Harris Theater the night we were there).
I hope – regardless of your political stripe – you’ll visit the SPLC site and learn about their work. And, take a look at the tracking they do of some nasty, hateful groups.
Meantime, one interesting piece of work they’ve been at has involved Google. Specifically, they tracked the case of Dylan Roof, the shooter who shot eight African-American worshippers in cold blood at their church in South Carolina. (And who just plead guilty.)
Roof didn’t grow up in a racist household. But by tracking his online travels and his writings, it was clear that the Internet played a giant role in the conversion of nice kid into monster. Once he started searching on terms like black-on-white crime, Google returned a plethora of sites that spewed made-up statistics and hateful, inaccurate stories.
This last election cycle opened my eyes to sites I barely could believe—including the one that said Hillary Clinton used a D.C. pizzeria for child molestation. But I’m telling you, the sites the SPLC representatives showed us were downright chilling. And when you think of an adolescent swimming around in that stuff, it becomes easier to see how Dylan Roof could happen.
SPLC saw a problem in the way these sites are not vetted at all for accuracy by Google’s algorithms. Google, responsibly, has met with SPLC twice. There’s evidence that some good has already been done — and Google just announced another step in the fight against bogus information.
I hope you’ll consider supporting the SPLC. As Morris Dees said in his closing remarks they will continue their work, as Dr. Martin Luther King put it, “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”