Fighting discrimination on the Internet

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews the head of International Network against Cyber Hate, INACH: "People don't worry about publishing extreme anti-Israeli hate on the internet."

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld , | updated: 11:01

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Manfred Gerstenfeld

"The International Network against Cyber Hate (INACH) consists of contact points and organizations which focus on fighting online discrimination – including anti-Semitism – and promoting international human rights on the internet. Anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial, is the main category of discrimination internationally."

Anti-Semitism on the internet is a sneaking danger. It confirms old stereotypes and re-chews and solidifies them in broad layers of the population.
Ronald Eissens is a cofounder and the General Director of INACH. In 1997 he founded the contact point, MDI in the Netherlands, together with his partner, Suzette Bronkhorst. This was the first organization in the world that was established to fight against discrimination on the internet. 

"Anti-Semitism on the internet is a sneaking danger. It confirms old stereotypes and re-chews and solidifies them in broad layers of the population. Handing out pamphlets on the street corner is a slow method of distribution and requires a lot of work. The same is true if one writes articles in the media.

"However, the internet accelerates everything. The myth that the Jews didn't go to work at the Twin Towers in New York in September 2001 appeared on the internet only half an hour after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The expansion of social media has been so pervasive over the past five years that most discrimination can now be found there.

"On Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, anti-Semitic texts, pictures and movie clips, are too numerous to count. For several years, we have been talking directly with social media both in a national and European context. Due to this and because all INACH members are 'trusted flaggers' we succeed in removing hate material in a reasonable period of time.

"Our actions are however, partly ineffective because social media companies often only want to remove posts that are clearly punishable in the countries where our members are active. Unfortunately, the attitude of social media organizations concerning issues such as Holocaust denial is rather immoral. The world has been able to see this recently once again from Mark Zuckerberg.

“To summarize:  INACH with its 25 members in 21 countries manages to remove thousands of expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial from social media every year. INACH also coordinates the so-called ‘monitoring of social media’ in conjunction with the European Commission. INACH trains youngsters in 'counter speech,' i.e., how to react to online discrimination. INACH also collaborates with its members in the development of online education modules.”  

Eissens says that these general issues can best be illustrated by looking at a single country. He refers to the Netherlands because it has the oldest contact point. His MDI was active from 1997 until 2013. During that period it managed to remove 11, 000 discriminatory expressions from the internet. About 4,000 of these concerned anti-Semitism which included much Holocaust denial. On the average, MDI succeeded in removing 95% of the material about which discriminatory content it complained. MDI has been replaced by the government-financed contact point, MIND which receives about 1500 complaints annually. Its success rate in convincing media owners to remove discriminatory content approaches that of MDI.

Eissens clarifies: “MDI and MIND are not monitoring organizations. To watch the internet the entire day would require far more manpower. Contact points are dependent on other social media users who inform them about discriminatory content. It often leads to ‘underreporting’ about discrimination on the internet. This is partly due to many people who don’t report because they think that their complaints will not have any result. This is primarily the case with complaints about anti-Semitism in expressions of hatred against Israel.

"One example of how hatred is spread in the Netherlands: Some prominent Dutchmen say: 'Look what is happening to the poor Palestinians, the Jews are like Nazis.' These people create the environment to develop anti-Semitism further.

"Despite the hundreds of punishable expressions, MIND has referred only one case in 2017 to the public prosecution. The Dutch government and the political system are increasingly inclined to give prevalence to freedom of expression over the fight against hate on the internet. Action against online discrimination is increasingly considered as overstressed.

"Concerning Europe, Dutch officials claim that there is 'exaggerated removal.' This is not based on any facts. It seems that when it comes to anti-Semitism the Netherlands is increasingly looking away, especially about hatred toward Israel. 

"The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism also includes various anti-Israeli expressions. But people don't worry about publishing extreme anti-Israeli hate on the internet. The statement on social media: 'All Israelis in the Netherlands must be killed'  can lead to persecution because of incitement to hate and violence. But if the following is written: 'All Israelis should die’, or ‘Iran should throw a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv, so that all Israelis should be baked,' no one is prosecuted in the Netherlands.

"We have discussed this several times with the Public Prosecutor. He says: 'I would have prosecuted if they had attacked Jews. But Israelis in general are not a component of Dutch society.'”