Web-savvy readers know that one can buy almost anything on the web these days, but one recent auction on the Internet site eBay marked a new low. The item in question was a set of "controversial" domain names, most of them related to the Ku Klux Klan. For a minimum bid of $500,000, would-be buyers could purchase a package of 104 names, ranging from longlivethekkk.com and GrandWizardkkk.org to trykukluxklan.net. The auction description even had separate appeals to "hate supporting" and "peace supporting individuals"; buyers could purchase the sites either to air their own opinions or to keep them out of the hands of hate groups.
The owner, Roschell Stoner of Spring, Texas, denied that there was anything unseemly about the sale. "We do not support hate groups, or any others," she said. "We invested in this, just like any other investment... We just found that this was one more area where there was a profit to be made." Stoner said she and her husband buy and sell domain names in pharmaceuticals, banking, and insurance.
No one was willing to bid for the entire 104-name set, but one person did offer $8,000 for one domain name related to the Klan. Stoner turned the bidder down, demanding at least $10,000 for the site. Apparently, getting an 11,329-percent return on what was probably a $70 investment wasn't enough.
Meanwhile, state legislators in Missouri have also been grappling with both the value of a name and the influence of the Klan. The KKK may not be coughing up half-a-million to expand its web presence, but in November, it won the right to join Missouri's "Adopt a Highway" cleanup program. This despite charges that the highway's adoption was a publicity stunt and that the Klan had no plans to do the required cleanup work. The result? The state erected signs along a stretch of Interstate 55 near St. Louis, informing passers-by that "Next mile adopted by Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Missouri."
But one enterprising "peace supporting individual," state Senator Bill Clay, Jr., recently proposed legislation that would name that stretch of highway after civil rights leader Rosa Parks. "To have the Klan clean up a section of highway named to honor the woman who started the modern civil rights movement -- I love it," Clay told the Associated Press.
Maybe Clay should get the legislature to appropriate money to buy Stoner's web sites and dedicate them to Rosa Parks too. As her ad so movingly argues, "If you let 'someone' else buy these domains, then 'they' may use these domains to spread hate speech or 'worse' on the Internet." Therefore, she admonishes, "Do your duty as an American citizen and place your bid to keep these domains from that 'someone' or 'some group!'" Just cross your fingers that "someone" doesn't come up with a higher bid.