Today, our interaction with the internet is often through interfaces developed by many programmers, often under the purview of large million, if not billion, dollar companies. If someone chooses to make a website, it’s often for their business or portfolio, so they often turn to companies such as Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress. Of course, for many, there is little reason to produce a personal website when social media companies today often encompass our internet presence without having to learn code or pay advertising to spread our information.
The early internet was a much different space. Around 1994, social media had not yet taken the form it has today, in that the earliest social media networks began at the end of the century. Instead, building an online presence meant building a website and finding a place to host it. This environment is where David Bohnett & John Rezner’s GeoCities developed in 1994. GeoCities was a host of user-created HTML webpages owned by “homesteaders”. At the time of its shutdown in 2009, there were 38 million websites hosted on its servers (Jackson, 2020). GeoCities is simply a website hosting service: It offered no tools to develop the sites, and users still had to learn HTML. Instead, it gathered various sites into “cities,” covering topics such as politics, colleges, LGBTQ+ identities, and cooking.
At the time of its shutdown, many scrambled to back up the remaining GeoCities sites, and they were largely successful through the efforts of the Internet Archive and Archive Team (Jackson, 2020). Of course, these sites are time capsules of even early times: Links are broken, sometimes only homepages are saved, and files are not guaranteed to be still there.
Today, I have picked the GeoCities site Antifascist Web, partly because I have been interested in the presence of politics (especially the detrimental effect of far-right politics) on the internet for a long time. I felt this website was a fascinating snapshot of leftist movements on the early internet developed. The site catalogues resources and organizations related to anti-fascism (thus leftist movements) worldwide, as well as some educational material on communism/socialism and how fascist rhetoric spreads through a society.
Before I continue, I would be remiss if I did not address the elephant in the room: The presence of the far right in the early internet. Although there has been discussion on the rise of the far right today, I think of its progression during the 2000s on unmoderated sites such as 4chan and 8chan. There, violent rhetoric spread unchecked, leading to the rise of the so-called “alt-right”: “extreme rightwing ideologies, including white nationalism… and antisemitism. It positions itself broadly against egalitarianism, democracy, universalism and multiculturalism.” (Bartlett, 2017). It stands to reason that even on GeoCities, there existed counterparts to Antifascist Web meant to propagate Nazi rhetoric instead. Simultaneously, we must also consider that the Antifascist Web was created in 1995, six years after the end of the Cold War, yet close enough that the Red Scare was still prominent.
On first look, the website is rather garish, with text lost in the background of crossed-out swastikas. The site is more of a board than anything else: Clicking the links leads to collections of user submissions or outside resources. The creator’s bias is present, but their own words are few and far between. The site is utilitarian and meant to be used to find other resources, and it shows.
I could not find any identification about the creator of the Antifascist Web. At most, the site provides an email so the creator can post visitor submissions. The only information I could find was that they are self-purport to be “good at computing,” and their email has the extension .nl, which is the domain for the Netherlands. Of course, there are no guarantees this information is true. All that can be guaranteed is that they created this website for the following purpose:
Something needed to be done against fascism,…
I don’t want to wake up in a world, realising I should have done much more against fascism in the past.
I am personally responsible for the world I’m giving to my children!
Everybody should undertake action in her or his way to stop fascism, some people are more likely to organise petitions or demonstrations, I’m good in computing, so I’m doing it on the Web, the virtual meeting-place of cultures =:-)
Meaning that all that can be gained is that this site was created entirely by someone with at least some programming experience (although it may not be specifically HTML experience) with a left-wing political view. Similarly, there is no information about their socioeconomic status. I mentioned before that the creator included an email to receive submissions, which came internationally from Nigeria to Mexico to Turkey. Often, they were reports on anti-fascist/fascist movements in their respective regions or local communist organizations. So, most of the content is sent to the creator, who then publishes the content unedited. The only guideline is that outside websites cannot include links to fascist sites.
The revenue streams the site would have had is far clearer. From what I can tell, the website is purely crowd-based. There may have been ads on the site, but in general, it ran independently under a single individual, who specifies the following:
“[The site is] the initiative of one single person (me:-), and I’m related to NO political group or party. The Antifascist Web is NOT funded at all, The Antifascist Web is a project that simply involves NO money at all, the only contributions that are welcome are Antifascist action reports, other texts, links to The Antifascist Web and free Internet space. If you really want to donate money: give it to a local Antifascist group!”
Perusing the site, I also found no links to products, as most re-direct to communist organizations. Of course, there is no guarantee that there is no outside support. They could, of course, be a member of an undisclosed organization for privacy reasons. I argue it would have to be for privacy reasons, seeing as they have dozens of links to other organizations, there would be no reason not to link to their own unless it was for personal protection. Of course, this anonymity is necessary, they acknowledge that they have received emails from Nazis, and so any identifiable material could therefore be used potentially harm them.
Today we see the impact of allowing far-right ideologies to fester in online spaces. We can choose to ignore them or imagine they don’t matter. The problem is that we can ignore them, but they won’t ignore us. We see this in the manifestos of some school shooters, the Unite the Right rally, and the rise of fascist leaders worldwide. These ideas have impacts, and combatting this rhetoric takes not simple platitudes or gilded policies but making sure that fascists and other far-right ideologies realise there is no future where they are accepted. I have no intention to say that everyone who is anti-fascist should be a communist, but the fact of the matter is that to be anti-fascist shouldn’t be something you say you are: it should be something that is actively pursued to the best of one’s ability because the other side is doing that whether or not we are.
Gita Jackson, “The Geocities Archive Is Bringing the Early Internet to Life,” Vice, January 27, 2020.
Jamie Bartlett, “From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right,” The Guardian, August 32, 2017.
GeoCities, “Antifascist Web,” accessed November 3, 2022, https://geocities.restorativland.org/CapitolHill/1131/history.html.