After repeated use of the hashtag #unbonjuif in France, which literally means "a good jew", prompted a barrage of anti-Semitic messages on Twitter, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a statement slamming the social networking site, saying it "lags far behind other established social media platforms" in establishing clear standards to block or remove racist, hate-filled tweets and re-tweets.
"When free expression crosses the line into speech that society recognizes as an affront to individuals' human dignity and as thinly veiled calls for violence, then the service provider has a responsibility to establish acceptable boundaries," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "It is time for Twitter to set some boundaries."
The hashtag led to what the French daily Le Monde termed “a competition of anti-Semitic jokes,” with one user a picture of an emaciated Jewish woman in a Nazi concentration camp as the interpretation of "a good Jew," while others tweeted that “a good Jew is a dead Jew.”
The "a good jew" incident is just the latest example of people using Twitter hashtags in an effort to target different racial and ethnic groups with hate speech. Nearly two weeks ago, the Nazi swastika symbol briefly trended on Twitter, generating a wave of offensive Holocaust and Nazi jokes.
"Twitter is fast becoming the Internet's distribution platform of choice for bigots who use it to get their messages of hate out in 140 characters or less," Foxman said. "Twitter's terms of service lag far behind other established social media platforms in setting standards which would provide a basis for Twitter to block or remove racist, hate-filled tweets and re-tweets."
While the industry as a whole has begun to grapple with its responsibilities when their services are misused to purvey hateful messages and incite bigotry and prejudice, Twitter continues to rely on a standard of "illegality" as the threshold for intervention.
Unlike YouTube and Facebook, Twitter has no terms of service or community standards that address aggressive or malicious behavior on the service. Additionally, Twitter does not provide even the most basic "Flagging" mechanism for complaints, which is widely used by Google and Facebook.
According to ADL, as long as Twitter sets the bar so low, bigots will flock to the service Twitter provides.
"The pervasiveness of anti-Semitism and racism on Twitter warrants a re-examination of its terms of service and implementation of user-friendly mechanisms to flag and remove problematic tweets," Foxman said.
ADL has worked with a number of Internet companies in developing best practices for understanding, reporting upon and responding to Internet hate. Later this year, the League will convene the first meeting of the Anti-Cyberhate Working Group, which will be comprised of industry leaders, academics, NGOs and others, to continue these discussions.