I'll never understand folks from California. Maybe it's something in the water, or overexposure to the sun, but these folks sure seem to have rose-colored lenses permanently tattooed on the eyeballs.

Here in New York, when some madman starts shooting up something Jewish, we don't have to wait for the shooter to be caught to know that anti-Semitism is at work.But there was Jeffrey L. Rouss, the head of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Centers, making that organization's first public statement on the day Buford Furrow shot up the North Valley center, and he didn't say a single word about the problems of racial hate groups in America. Guns were the problem, he said.

It's not as if folks in California have never seen anti-Semitism before. Sacramento synagogues have been the victims of a series of recent arsons that a couple of brothers from aptly named Happy Valley are suspected of setting (while they weren't busy killing a gay couple out of hate, police allege).

What makes the this rose-colored attitude even harder to understand is that Californians are supposed to be the most Internet-conscious of all Americans. How can you use the Net and be ignorant of the infestation of hate - especially against Jews, blacks and gays - manifested on it?

And it's not just that there are a few dozen hate sites you might find if you were actively searching. Hateful people are interjecting their ideas into the most mainstream parts of the Net.

It's hard to get more Net mainstream than America Online. Just this week, I went to AOL's Instant Messenger chat service (http:// chats.html) and entered the ''Jewish Singles'' chat room. Within seconds I got a message on my screen.

''Jews can be hung from crossess (sic),'' an individual with the screen name TPX83 typed. CelticCpf vividly accused Jews of bestiality; wklass44 agreed. A few seconds later, another chatter made clear that Jews were not the only target: ''We hate you f----- jews more than we hate niggers,'' MMeddo669 typed.

If you think this was some kind of aberration or just an AOL problem, you're wrong.

This happens all the time, wherever chat services are available. Maybe you think this is harmless. Maybe you think it's just some teen-age boys being teen-age boys and doing harmless fantasizing.

Well, try telling that to the families of the dead in Littleton, Colo., because Buford Furrow wasn't the first person to play around with white supremacist ideas and then turn them into reality with a gun. Teen-agers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did, too, in their killing spree at Columbine High School.

And maybe you think that since we have a First Amendment protecting expression, nothing can be done to stop this hateful speech. Well, you'd be wrong there, too.

As the Anti-Defamation League ( says, Internet service providers are private organizations that can voluntarily agree to prohibit users from sending racist or bigoted messages over their services.

Amid a climate of troubling acts of hate and violence in our society, companies that make a living off chat services have to take on a responsibility to effectively fight hate speech. If they're not willing to do that voluntarily, we're going to have to force them to do it.

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