This piece originally appeared in the American Reporter.
Friday AOL removed a web page featuring writings by serial killers.
"We find the information that is in this site offensive and objectionable," an AOL spokesperson told the press, "and we did not wish to have our name associated with it."
William Richard Jones is an unassuming man. "I'm trying to give something back to my people," the Texas African-American writes on his web page. He's carefully collected links for the "African American Web connection" -- a showcase including businesses, churches, and historic photographs of his family. ("Jane Reed was 9 years of age when slavery ended," reads one caption.) "This site belongs to the African American community," his introduction announces. Jones' odyssey through AOL began when he discovered a web page in early March, created by one of the service's subscribers--to recruit for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "I called the administrative and technical reps. for the 'aol.com' and 'members.aol.com' domain," he wrote to an e-mail list--determined to find out why the page was tolerated. "I left many voice mails and even sent a FAX letter to their Community Action team in Virginia." According to the message, he received no response. After placing a phone call, he wrote, he finally reached an AOL staffer who provided his answer. "She coldly told me that American Online does not and will not remove KKK pages." Her arguments of the First Amendment didn't sway Jones. "Why America Online does not wish to take the high ground is beyond me," the message concluded. Two weeks later, the incident still puzzled him. "That kind of shocked me," Jones remembered, "because up until that time, most of the major internet providers did not have hate pages." Five months later, the page was still up. "The more I think about it, the madder I get," he says. "I knew other people were mad at AOL before," he adds, "but I just kept on...I'd been with them for a while." After the phone call, he cancelled his account...but the page stayed up. But meanwhile, the message about his efforts had been re-posted to at least eight different internet newsgroups--urging readers to write to firstname.lastname@example.org to voice their opinions. Eventually his story made its way into news outlets--first Wired News, then the Washington Post... And Jones says he's received hundreds of e-mailed responses. While the page is still on the service, Jones' efforts brought it to public attention. Why did he do it? "Not to stamp out the racist sites. There are too many," he says, "and besides I'm not really against free speech. Just mad that a private provider that has so many black members would be so insensitive. Several providers still do have a 'No hate page' policy." This is not the first time AOL has faced charges of racism. During the final days of the Olympics, members of the Hispanic community were outraged when the moderator of an AOL soccer bulletin board told them posts in Spanish weren't allowed. English-only rules were a sensitive topic--especially when the moderator informed them posts in French were acceptable, because he was fluent in that language. Within 24 hours of critical news story, AOL had reversed the policy. But not so with the web page. "I'm both outraged and shocked that your company has taken the low ground and hidden behind the first amendment," Jones wrote in a letter to company CEO Steve Case on Sunday. "Considering the number of African American AOL members, I thought your company would show more sensitivity than allowing a web page from an organization with a history of hate and violence against blacks." "They have killed, maimed, destroyed so many people over the years," the letter continued. "Fortunately there still are other internet providers who are more sensitive. Some believe your decision to allow the KKK page to remain is a slap in the face to every African-American AOL member... I hope your company will reconsider your decision." "I feel AOL has lost touch with its member base," Jones says. "Have I gotten any replies from AOL other than the phone conversation I initiated on March 14? No, I have not." In a late-night e-mail interview, he reflected on his crusade. "I felt somewhat like the newsman in the old movie where he stood up during national news and said "I'm Mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this any longer". "May God Bless," he signed his message.