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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Muslims sue AOL over chat rooms
Person typing on keyboard
Offensive comments allegedly posted in chat rooms
One of the world's largest internet providers, AOL, has been accused of allowing hate speech to go unsanctioned in chat rooms for Muslims.

The lawsuit says that AOL did not sufficiently monitor and edit out harassing incidents, some of which lasted a few minutes while others lasted hours.

AOL denies the charge, saying the lawsuit is "totally without merit".

The lawsuit only names one plaintiff in the case, Saad Noah of Illinois. He says that he repeatedly asked AOL to clean up the Koran and Beliefs: Islam chat rooms, but was ignored.


Muslim members for years have been concerned about anti-Muslim harassment, but the harassers keep coming back

Lawyer Kamran Memon
Case documents show 20 pages of offensive comments posted in the chat rooms in 1998 and 1999.

Mr Noah cancelled his AOL membership in July 2000.

"Muslim members for years have been concerned about anti-Muslim harassment, but the harassers keep coming back" said Mr Noah's lawyer Kamran Memon.

"In light of the growing significance of the internet, a public chat room should fall within this category as a place of entertainment and therefore should be free of harassment," he said.

The lawyers are seeking unspecified monetary damages and are pressing to have the lawsuit given class-action status.

A class-action lawsuit is one in which one or more parties file a complaint on behalf of themselves and all other people who have comparable claims.

The lawyers also want an injunction requiring AOL to enforce its rules that prevent members from sending messages that offend community standards.

'Zero tolerance'


We have zero tolerance for hate speech on the service

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein
AOL insists it applies the same rules prohibiting members from using offensive language to all chat rooms.

"We have zero tolerance for hate speech on the service," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.

AOL has more than 14,000 chat rooms dedicated to the specific interests of its members.

The service does not have active monitors. Instead AOL depends on its members to watch out for incidents.

"When a complaint is brought to our attention, our staff reviews it, and can take action ranging from a reprimand to cancellation of service," said Mr Weinstein.

Courts in the past have ruled that internet providers are not liable for language or conduct across on the service.

In May 2000, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest tribunal, ruled that the ISP Prodigy was not legally liable for either objectionable e-mail or bulletin board messages.

The court said Prodigy's business was more akin to a telephone company than a publisher.

See also:

02 May 00 | Sci/Tech
US backs net free speech
30 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Demon settles net libel case
31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Piggy in the middle fear for ISPs
30 Aug 01 | Americas
Battling online hate
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