Soundings

Dennis Saffran
Murder Online
Summer 1999

The horrific shootings at Colorado's Columbine High have left the public leery about bomb-making Internet websites like those killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold consulted before their lethal rampage. Typical is a Yahoo! club "Chemical Warfare: A place to discuss the Preparation of Bombs . . . for those who want to damage people/property." These easy-to-find websites, Unabomber victim Gary Wright warns, "give a person with little technical sophistication the information on how to commit mass murder."

We should pressure Internet providers like America Online or Compuserve to find these websites and shut them down. It's easy to do: the same computer technology that powers Internet search engines lets website hosts scan their cyberspace domains for bomb-making keywords and delete sites that carry explicit directions. Companies that provide search engines-such as Yahoo! or Disney's Go.com-could simply not lead their users to bomb-making sites.

The First Amendment does not prevent private firms from censoring themselves, so the cyberspace industry can't hide behind the Constitution to avoid acting. Not only do the companies have the moral responsibility to prohibit murderous use of their services, it's also in their best interest to do so. A federal appeals court recently held that a murdered woman's estate could sue the publisher of a hit man's manual that her killer read before doing her in. Internet firms should take note and delete bomb-making websites now.
 

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