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Computer Info Service Will Bar ‘Repugnant’ Messages

October 24, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ A computer information service accused of condoning anti-Semitic messages announced Wednesday it would bar items ″grossly repugnant to community standards″ from its electronic bulletin boards.

The Prodigy company also said the most virulently anti-Semitic message cited by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith never appeared on its computer bulletin boards.

″In fact, we rejected it 15 times,″ Prodigy senior vice president Henry Heilbrunn said. He added that the person who tried to post the hateful message had received it from someone else and hoped to expose the anti-Semitism to other Prodigy members.

That message said, in part, ″Hitler had some valid points too. ... Remove the Jews and we will go a long ways toward avoiding much trouble.″

The ADL had said more than a million Prodigy members could have seen the message. But Jeffrey Sinensky, head of the ADL’s civil rights division, agreed Wednesday that it never reached the bulletin board.

Heilbrunn, who had initially defended the message as part of the service’s free exchange of ideas, said Wednesday he had been addressing the wider issue and not the specific messages the ADL cited.

The company, which said Tuesday night that none of the anti-Semitic notes had appeared on the bulletin boards, charged Wednesday that other messages the ADL cited were either ″fragments″ or ″not in context.″

Messages posted on the bulletin boards are sent through a central computer via a phone line from any subscriber’s personal computer. Once sent, they are available to any of the network’s 1.1 million members if they tap into that bulletin board.

Heilbrunn, speaking at a news conference, said the company had changed its standards of what was acceptable for bulletin boards. He said the decision was part of an ongoing process and not prompted by the current flap.

″We have now amplified these guidelines to define offensive as notes that are grossly repugnant to community standards,″ said Heilbrunn. ″This would encompass notes that are blatant expressions of bigotry, racism and hate.″

The ADL’s Sinensky said he welcomed the new Prodigy guidelines but wondered about the motivation behind them.

″I think there’s an element of damage control. This was not their response in July, August, September or on the morning of Oct. 21,″ Sinensky said. The ADL first brought the messages to Prodigy’s attention in July; company officials met with ADL representatives on Monday.

Messages containing obscenities are automatically deleted by a computer censor. Messages containing advertisements, libel or offensive material are discovered by the company through random checks and user complaints, Heilbrunn said.