Op-Ed: Anti-Semitism in Social Media Includes Twitter
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards...
“The rise of social media has caused multiple problems for Jews and Israel. Many of them manifest themselves in ways that concern society at large. Jews and Israel however, often seem to be the first ones negatively impacted. My own work over almost a decade has focused mainly on identifying and recommending changes which can eliminate or mitigate these problems.
“The first issue we face is ideological. The internet grew out of a lawless environment. This tradition of ‘internet exceptionalism’ continues, even if it is increasingly challenged. A clash of cultures exists between the Americans who operate many of the global service providers, and the rest of the world. The Americans want complete freedom in their operations. Outside America however, the common position is that hate speech is highly undesirable. The public there has a legitimate expectation that the state will take steps to prevent and perhaps even criminalize it. This is in light of how hate speech played a significant role in enabling the Holocaust.”
Dr. Andre Oboler is Chief Executive Officer of the Online Hate Prevention Institute in Australia. He is co-Chair of the Working Group on Anti-Semitism on the Internet and in the Media of the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.
“Another major issue concerns flaws in the systems of service providers such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. They can relate to the software, processes and sometimes also the people involved. Twitter does not have a mechanism for flagging problem content. It thus keeps no genuine check on anti-Semitism. This issue is currently before the French courts after a complaint by the French Union of Jewish Students.
“Many examples from Facebook involve anti-Semitism in various forms. For instance, promotion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the classic demonization of the Jews, the comparison of the State of Israel with Nazi Germany as well as conspiracy theories. It is a flaw in Facebook’s practices that complaints regarding such content are often rejected. Data from a group of Israeli students working against online anti-Semitism, suggest that this occurs with over 85% of valid complaints. As Facebook has no quality control system, it becomes even harder to remove the content afterwards.
“With some providers, one sometimes gets the impression that those in charge of dealing with complaints wish to avoid discussing it. In some companies it is difficult to find a specific person to liaise with about severe and ongoing problems concerning anti-Semitism. One often receives a generic response signed by ‘the company’s team’ or a fictitious person.
For years, Facebook has refused to acknowledge the anti-Semitic nature of Holocaust Denial, which is one of the most extreme forms of anti-Semitism.
“Yet another major concern is the companies’ lack of understanding about anti-Semitism’s nature. This oldest form of hate which has existed for millennia, has been studied well. In most forms, it is easily and consistently identified by scholars and experts. The providers however, want to create their own definitions and understanding of anti-Semitism. They clearly lack the expertise, skill or even a desire to do so properly. This has led for example, to a situation where for years, Facebook has refused to acknowledge the anti-Semitic nature of Holocaust Denial, which is one of the most extreme forms of anti-Semitism.
“In civil society, similar problems are increasing against other communities, such as indigenous groups, homosexuals, religious and cultural minorities and immigrants. One public divergence between Facebook’s position and public opinion was over pages making light of rape. Facebook initially considered this humorous content and sought to protect and excuse it. This led to accusations of sexism and major public backlash. Facebook then quickly reversed direction.
“Jews should use the expertise gained from the fight against anti-Semitism to assist other communities under attack. Governments need to be in greater control within their own borders, as well as – when their citizens are under attack – extra-territorially through international treaties. Law enforcement outside of the United States often struggles to get either a suitable or a timely response from U.S. based service providers.
The internet should not be America’s playground. The mere passage of information through the United States, or use of the services of a U.S. based company, should not create difficulties when both the perpetrator and victim reside in some other country.
“There is also a constant propaganda war waged against the Jewish state in social media. Misinformation goes viral rapidly. Staged videos and doctored photographs are rife, particularly during times of conflict. Truth plays no role in this particular arena. Content is king, and the more sensational the better. There is also a constant stream of support for big lies such as ‘Israeli Apartheid.’
“Israel also faces coordinated use of social media as a tool of war by Iran. Networks of Israel activists are compromised. Groups like ‘Anonymous’ are infiltrated and become Iranian puppets. Social media thus becomes a megaphone for state-sponsored hate propaganda, dehumanization and of course, anti-Semitism. Yet social media companies stand idly by, watching their advertising profits roll in.”