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The online campaign to recognise Palestine

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Source: Andre Oboler, The online campaign to recognise Palestine, Jerusalem Post, September 02, 2011

Pirkei Avot records Ben Zoma’s advice that a wise person is one who learns from all others. Online advocacy is a rapidly evolving field and one in which Israel advocates are regularly out maneuvered. We must learn not only from actions on our side, but also from the campaigns of those opposing us. Following my last article, which discussed two campaigns in support of Gilad Shalit, this article looks at a campaign in support of a Palestinian State.

There is a strong argument in favour of ignoring those campaigns with which we disagree. This avoids giving them oxygen and a false sense of importance. The strategy is used in the real world to limit publicity through the media, and also in the online world to limit counter-productive promotion of a site to both people and search engine spiders (software used by search engines to explore and rank websites). One important limitation on such a strategy is that it becomes ineffective once the problematic campaign gains enough attention of its own.

There is also a need to expose campaigns which may not be all they seem. This is particularly true in the conventional media when Israel and her supporters are up against Pallywood, the production of fictional events and atrocities as part of Palestinian public diplomacy. Another approach is the manufacture of fake “grassroots” campaigns, what is known as astroturfing. A 2009 collection of astroturf campaigns shows the technique in action in the real world.

The success of an online campaign is usually measured by participation and grassroots buy-in, fake this and you have faked the whole campaign. In the online world astroturfing has now reached dangerous levels, and much of it is said to be done by professional lobbying organisations – and by governments.

Both campaigns with real support and Astroturf should be discussed and countered. I leave it to the reader to decide which category Avaaz’s “Recognise Palestine” falls under. The only judgement I make is that we can learn a lot about online advocacy from this campaign.

Search Engine position

A Google search for “recognize Palestine” presents the Avaaz campaign as the second search result. This is a strong start for an advocacy campaign and is typically achieved through many inbound links from other websites. Palestinian advocacy is typically much better than pro-Israel advocacy in the search engine rankings because culturally pro-Palestinian / anti-Israel campaigns have an attitude of share and share alike, while pro-Israel advocacy sees each organisation going it alone and seeking to promote itself even more than the cause. The politics of funding for Jewish / pro-Israel advocacy is greatly tied up with this problem. The exception is unbranded campaigns which can be supported by multiple organisations, both the campaigns discussed in my last article (Tweet4Shalit.com and MeetGilad.com) fall into this category and both are on page one of their respective search results.

Engagement numbers and tipping point

The “recognize Palestine” campaign claims to have been seen by nine hundred thousand people and have collected four thousand signatures less than it has page views. If true that is both an amazing conversion rate and a staggering number of views for a page that was launched sometime between August 5th and August 17th. The campaign aims to collect a million signatures, and it appears to be quite close to completion. In fact, the numbers appear to be at a tipping point where the actions of each visitor could make a real difference to completing the goal. Through luck or design this helps the campaign.

The power of video

The central feature of the “recognize Palestine” campaign page is a video. Videos are of increasing significance and any site not making full use of them is behind the times. Avaaz uses them sparingly and other campaigns on the site, such as the famine in Somalia and the threat to the Amazon have not had the same investment evidenced in the “recognize Palestine” campaign.

The video gives a clear message, it demands that now is the time for Palestinians to also have a state of their own. The video makes this demand using symbolism and animation with imagery designed to give maximum emotional impact to Palestinian claims while presenting “Israel’s claims” in a factual, abstract and non-urgent manner. The presentation of both sides is important to a sophisticated audience. Israel’s case is, however, minimized not through lies but through unequal emotion impact, missing information and logical fallacies. Non sequiturs, conclusions that do not logically follow from the arguments leading up to them, are common.

To give some examples, the video says, “wars were fought with the new country Israel, and Israel won taking Palestinian land. There hasn’t been peace since. Now a million and a half Palestinians live in Gaza.” To discuss the situation in Gaza with no mention of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal is dishonest. This is presumably done because the Gaza withdrawal provides the strongest case against unilateralism by either side, as well as explaining Israel’s legitimate fear of what may result from Palestinian statehood without peace. At another point the video explains, “Million’s of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, pushing them to fight harder for a safe homeland, and after decades of suffering under Israeli control, Palestinians are desperate for freedom and an independent state.” That’s a great use of the ‘non sequitur’.

Avaaz is known for its professionally produced videos; a joint project with Agit-Pop Communications won the 2007 YouTube Award in the politics category. The campaign uses video well and nothing on the pro-Israel side is as slick.

The Achilles heel

The campaign does have one serious drawback, and this the numbers… they simply don’t add up. When I look a few days ago the page said it had been visited 609,437 times and the petition had been signed 868,279 times. If the petition was first released through this page those numbers are actually impossible. One logical explanation is that this same petition was originally on another page. Indeed it was, but back then it was directed to specific members of the security council. That campaign was a dismal failure, so Avaaz moved the goal posts and recycled the petition and signatures, now addressing it to all UN members. The current page does not disclose this reuse. Honesty is a critical component in any grassroots campaign, without it the grassroots can quickly turn on you.

Even given this initial boost to the petition, the numbers still don’t add up. The video is hosted on YouTube, which maintains its own stats. Given the video runs automatically when the page loads, the increase in page views should be matched by an increase in YouTube’s own count of video views. One qualification is that YouTube only counts unique views. The page, by contrast, may increase its viewer count each time it is loaded, leading to a much higher count as one person may reload the page many times. If this is the case, YouTube’s count is a more meaningful measure. The popular myth that auto playing videos do not count is apparently just that… a myth. Even so, over a five day period, 296,232 new page views appear to have only resulted in 30,828 additional signatures and 4,601 additional video views.

While there may be a logical explanation for the varying numerical data the site displays, the bottom line is that the numbers don’t add up. The conversion rate is rapidly dropping. This is not a rapidly growing viral campaign but rather a major investment that has fizzled.

The cost

Avaaz has a 4.7 million dollar budget and has (indirectly) received funding from George Soros. It has money and uses it to do a professional job without cutting corners. Even the choice of excluding user comments is deliberate; a quick look at the comments on the YouTube video shows that when the public has the ability to speak, a propaganda video like this will not go unchallenged.

Those defending Israel lack a well resourced professional online campaigning organisation. Our efforts, including my own Community Internet Engagement Project, have simply not been anywhere near this scale. As a community we have professional political lobbying organisations, use pollsters, and conduct message testing, but when it comes to online advocacy, we are clearly far behind.

To succeed we need to learn from others and recognise that online advocacy, like political advocacy, is something that requires purpose built organisations with significant financial investment. This is not something that can be left to volunteers or added to the work of organisations with specialities in other areas. The cost is high, and the need critical, we need to band together or be left behind.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the UK and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in political science in Israel. He can be contacted at feedback@oboler.com or via twitter @oboler.

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Facebook’s Race and Online Hate

Categories: Antisemitism, News Categories: Tags: , ,

Published as: Andre Oboler, Facebook’s Race and Online Hate, Jerusalem Post, 17 August 2011

It’s been over three years since the issue of Holocaust denial on Facebook was first raised. The truly amazing thing is that after countless protests, petitions, letters and meetings with experts, Facebook continues to refuse to recognise Holocaust denial as a form of hate. The social media platform continues to make a special exception and would rather spin and stonewall than fix a bad policy.

The danger today comes more from Facebook’s own position than from the content itself. The $70 billion dollar company’s refusal to recognise that Holocaust denial is a form of hate has continued despite advice and research from numerous experts. Facebook’s various justifications and efforts to redefine the issue seem to be the only thing that changes.

When the leading international experts on online antisemitism gathered in Jerusalem last month, the issue of Facebook’s policy on Holocaust Denial was one of many issues on the agenda. The Online Antisemitism Working Group meeting covered a comprehensive review of conferences and research reports on online hate from around the world. The experts examined new challenges that result from technological innovation, discussed recent incidents, and reviewed past challenges that were enumerated when the working group last met at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in 2009.

The increased concern on the Facebook Holocaust denial situation resulted from a lack of progress over the past two years and growing frustration in the expert community. In 2010 it had seemed Facebook had changed their policy without publically announcing it, but in 2011 more Holocaust denial groups appeared to be making a comeback and Facebook reasserted it’s position that Holocaust denial in and of itself was not considered by the company to be hateful. In truth, many groups and pages were only removed when the media specifically named them or published photographs of them.  Experts who had met with Facebook on behalf of their own organizations had begun to feel they were going in circles. There was not much more to be said, all the arguments had been laid out before Facebook, the logical conclusion was obvious, and yet no progress was being made.

A video conference with a senior manager from Facebook was productive on a number of other issues, particularly the question of the responsibility users with special privileges should have. In the meeting Facebook requested a policy paper discussing this proposal in more depth. The Holocaust denial issue however remained an irrational sticking point that was embedded in an unwritten corporate policy. Following further discussion, the working group co-chairs, David Matas and myself, wrote to Mark Zuckerberg to explain that Holocaust denial was in and of itself hate speech and that Facebook’s exception for “historical events” led to an inconsistency in its policies. All hate speech should be treated the same, to do otherwise is to condones certain forms of hate. Not only was no reply forthcoming, even the policy paper that was sent to Facebook at their request received no acknowledgement.

Of all the issue of online hate the working group discussed, Facebook’s Holocaust Denial policy appeared to be the only one where a company was clearly saying “won’t” rather than “can’t”. Technical problems have technical solutions; the experts on the Global Forum Working Group discussed such solutions, shared knowledge and brainstormed on new approaches. When people refuse to recognise the danger of Holocaust denial, that is a human problem, and a danger to much of the fabric of human rights in modern society. It was in response to the Holocaust and the global desire to avoid a repetition of history that much of the modern human rights framework was created.

Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever, and once they are gone it will become increasingly difficult to convince people the Holocaust really happened. Denial will become more popular and more acceptable. The Nazi’s told their victims no one would believe them even if they did survive because the reality was just so implausible. If we struggle to understand the danger when the survivors themselves write to us, as they recently wrote to Facebook, then how are we as a society going to fair once they are gone?

To see Facebook ignoring the danger and denying the hateful nature of Holocaust denial is deeply concerning. To see the ethnicity of Jewish staff brought up in official statements to support the company’s assertion that it must know what it is doing, even while ignoring the warning of so many experts, is troubling. Technology however continues to change, and with the rise of Google+, Facebook may soon have real competition. Having a choice of platform will restore power to the public and may see the start of a race to retain users. When this happens it will be up to society to assert loudly and strongly that hate has no place in our online communities, and that Holocaust denial is no exception. I wonder if we are ready for that challenge?

The comprehensive report of the Online Antisemitism Working Group, including many recommendations for different sectors of society, will be published later this year. I hope by then we will be able to report that Facebook has had a change of heart.

Dr Andre Oboler is co-chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism. He can be contacted at feedback@oboler.com

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Facebook and Holocaust Denial

Categories: Antisemitism, Features, News Categories: Tags: , , ,

Facebook urged to abandon its ‘exception’ for Holocaust denial

August 16, 2011

The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism has called on Facebook to treat Holocaust denial as incitement to hatred.  Facebook has as one of its terms of service that “You will not post content that: is hateful … “.  Facebook has however made an exception for Holocaust denial for a number of years, and now justifies the exception as consistent with its policy, adopted after it made the exception, not to “prohibit people from making statements about historical events”.

At a meeting of the Online Antisemitism Working Group in July 2011 (Jerusalem, Israel), participants held a video conference with a senior manager of Facebook. The issue of Holocaust denial, raised by the working group in 2009, was discussed. The meeting resulted in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.

The letter, sent on July 12, by working group co-chairs David Matas and Andre Oboler, explained that there is no meaningful distinction between hate speech and Holocaust denial and that Facebook’s insistence on a distinction should be abandoned.  The Working Group has yet to receive a reply to this letter.  The letter is attached to this press release.

The Online Antisemitism Working Group believes the Facebook policy against hate speech should apply to all content without exception. The standard for historical events should be no different from the standard for other types of discussion. Allowing some topics, like historical events, to contain hate is equivalent to sanctioning hate and creates a serious inconsistency within Facebook’s policies. In this case the exception allows one well known form of hate speech, illegal in many countries, to be used against a particular minority group. Facebook should be asking whether the content is hateful, and if so, they should be removing it in line with their terms of service. Holocaust denial is hateful and should be removed.

The working group co-chairs have also sent Facebook, at their request, a paper on creating greater reciprocity between the power and responsibility of users in social media. The main outcome of the Working Group meeting, a comprehensive report on Online Hate, will be available later this year.

The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism is an active and worldwide alliance of statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGO’s and scholars.  The Online Antisemitism Working Group was established in 2009 and is Co-Chaired by David Matas and Dr Andre Oboler. David Matas is an international human rights, refugee and immigration lawyer based in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada. Dr. Andre Oboler is Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project and an expert in social media and online hate based in Melbourne, Australia.

The letter to Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg

Chief Executive Officer

Facebook

12 July 2011

The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism requests Facebook to change its policy about Holocaust denial.  Facebook has as one of its terms of service that “You will not post content that: is hateful … “.  Complaints about posting of Holocaust denial have led in many instances to the determination that the posting was hateful.  Nonetheless Facebook makes a distinction between Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred. In the view of the Working Group there is no meaningful distinction between the two and Facebook’s insistence on the distinction should be abandoned.

The Holocaust is one of the most comprehensively documented events of all history.  There are many perpetrators who have been accused, tried, convicted, and punished.  Their trials have left extensive records including the testimony of witnesses and filings of exhibits.  There are museums and libraries throughout the world filled with documents and artifacts of the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the Auschwitz Camp Museum in Poland and the Berlin Documentation Centre in Germany.  The remains of extermination camps still exist, such as Birkenau near Auschwitz and Majdanek.  There are films, memoires, TV programs all grounded in the Holocaust.  There are monuments where the victims were killed and the survivors now live, commemorating what happened.

One has to ask what Holocaust denial means, given this historical record.  When a person says that the Holocaust did not exist, given all these court cases, all the monuments and museums, all the memoires and films, that person is alleging a fraud on a massive scale.  If the Holocaust did not happen, the survivors, the museum curators, the historians, the librarians, the prosecutors, the judges and juries, the movie and TV producers, the reporters are not just confused or forgetful.  They are lying.

Holocaust denial, by its very nature, is an allegation of massive fraud.  The allegation of massive fraud is not separate from the allegation that the Holocaust never happened but, by its very nature, is implicit in it.  Some forms of Holocaust denial actually assert this fraud.  Others do not.  However, it is not necessary to say the word “fraud”; the allegation of fraud is there even where it is unspoken.

One has to ask further who would be behind such a fraud, if one accepts the fraud in the first place.  The answer of Holocaust deniers is the Jews.  Although much Holocaust evidence comes from non-Jews and much of the documentation is Nazi German documentation, information from survivors and the organized Jewish community is essential to the memory of the Holocaust.  Again, some Holocaust denial material explicitly accuses the Jewish community of perpetrating the fraud of the Holocaust.  However, even the Holocaust denial material that says nothing about Jewish fraud implies this accusation.  It is impossible to extricate Holocaust denial from this allegation of Jewish fraud, even where it is not explicit.

If we continue to follow this line of inquiry, one has to ask how such a fraud could be committed.  How could the media, the libraries, the museums, the courts be filled with information about the Holocaust, if the Holocaust never happened?  The answer deniers give or imply is Jewish control of the media, the libraries, the museums and the courts.  Holocaust denial is a mutation of the standard historical antisemitic smear that Jews control the world for their own evil interests.  Here too, some forms of Holocaust denial state this explicitly.  Even the forms of Holocaust denial that do not have this antisemitic conclusion out front have it hidden in the background.

On the descent to hatred, the largest movement a person has to make is the leap from the historical record to Holocaust denial.  Once that leap has been made, the belief in Jewish fraud is a small and inevitable step.

Finally, we have to ask, continuing to assume the fraud, why the Jewish community would carry out such a hoax.  The answer Holocaust deniers give, sometimes explicitly, but otherwise implicitly, is for sympathy, for support for Israel, for reparations.  Again, here we see Holocaust denial as a modern dress for a traditional antisemitic slur, the slur that Jews are greedy and manipulative.

It is no coincidence that the complaints against Holocaust denial on Facebook have led to many findings of violations of the term of service against posting hateful material. The Holocaust denial material that remains is also clearly hateful and of concern. Incitement to hatred against Jews is in fact part and parcel of the very nature of Holocaust denial. This has been repeatedly held by courts and international bodies. We would be happy to send details if this is of assistance to you.

We call on Facebook to abandon its insistence on treating Holocaust denial in a context free manner, in which it is considered nothing more than the rejection of a historical event. The context makes it clear that there is no meaningful distinction between Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred against Jews. To treat Holocaust denial as the only acceptable form of hate on Facebook is a far greater exception than to accept that this particular ‘denial of a historical event’ is a special case of historical revisionism that poses a particular danger to a segment of society. We ask that Facebook recognize Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech, issue a statement to this effect, and do its utmost to remove Holocaust denial from the Facebook platform.

Sincerely yours,

David Matas and Andre Oboler

Co-chairs, Online Antisemitism Working Group

The Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism

http://www.gfantisemitism.org

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Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 2)

Categories: News Categories, Public Diplomacy: Tags: ,

Published as: Andre Oboler, Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 2), Jerusalem Post Blog, July 31 2011

This is part two of an article on online public diplomacy and the challenge and opportunity September presents for Israel advocates. In the first part I explained what public diplomacy is and where it comes from. I concluded by noting the need for the involvement of more professionals, better resourcing for the online sphere, and a cultural change in favour of joint projects and greater cooperation between Israel’s supporters. In this continuation of the article I discuss the challenges we will face in more detail, and what we should be doing for online public diplomacy in support of Israel.

The battle we are facing in September, from the BDS movement to the unilateral declaration of statehood to Durban III, is about delegitimization. The battle began as an effort to brand Israel as evil using Apartheid South Africa as a metaphor, but today it is modeled on the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a public diplomacy battle that seeks to dissolve Israel both from within and through external isolation from without.

The battle lines are clearly visible and many strong advocates of the left, who have opposed the occupation for decades, are now equally vocal in their opposition to a limited boycott, a declaration of a Palestinian State outside the framework of direct negotiations, and a declaration before Palestinian institutions are ready to run a state. They correctly see these moves as tactics to divide, conquer and ultimately erase the Jewish state from the pages of history. These moves are more about being anti-Israel than they are about being pro-Palestinian. Israel’s supporters have clear points of consensus; they can stand together if political differences on other topics can be ignored. This, however novel, is not what makes September different.

The real difference this September is that online advocacy will come into its own. September will be a month of advocacy on college campuses across North America since the Arab Spring. It will come at a time when activism on campuses is traditionally at a peek, the start of a new academic year. From North America, the power of social media will take the campaign global and connect it with other causes and campaigns. The Palestinian cause has a history of infiltrating other groups. We have seen the “Stop the War” coalition rebrand as “Stop the war – Free Palestine,” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament adopted a “Hands of Iran” campaign. We need to be ready not only in North America, but in places as far apart as Europe, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Social media will take this global.

At our end, efforts are also under way. Unfortunately they tend to be authorized by people with little to no understanding of social media. These people employ others who “sort of get it.” The result is very few experts and lots of people who think they are experts. Tactics that have been tried and reject years ago by the other side are now being promoted with much excitement by some Israel advocates. What few resources are dedicated to online advocacy are misspent. There is a lack of long term thinking, a lack of strategic analysis and planning, and a lack of online expertise. Being able to use Facebook does not make one a social media expert and getting lots of likes on a Facebook page does not itself count as a success. It may be the first step, but it is only the first step.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Blogs and all the other content sharing and social media platforms are only a publicity channel. The real online public diplomacy work takes far more resources to create. It involves websites, videos, and dedicated social media accounts that will rapidly get large followings. It involves high quality content generation, access to celebrities, and enough of a splash to be noticed in the main stream media. Mostly though, it involves education.

Effective public diplomacy, even online, means sharing a story, a narrative, and connecting to people so they want to learn more. It means giving people confidence in their knowledge so they can engage in debate, correct misconceptions and take apart the delusional misrepresentation of Israel they see presented in public. None of this is unique to social media, but social media provides a channel these supporters of Israel, these advocates, can use to express themselves. The online resources give them something to share, something to comment on, and something to use to educate and challenge both themselves and their friends. The days when it was enough to parrot messages prepared by others are long past.

The Palestinian plans are openly published on the web, or distributed widely to lists with little or no security. Our efforts tend to be super secret with no Jewish or pro-Israel group knowing what any other is doing. Worse, every group feels the only initiatives worth perusing on the ones they create and the only campaign worth perusing is the one with their name and logo in 10 foot high letters. We don’t have a culture of cooperation, we have a culture of self interest. Social movements don’t mix well with such an environment. However good the content, unless people are willing to share it in their personal life, in their personal online space, the effort is wasted – and how the content is branded makes a huge difference to this.

Our leadership structure poses another problem. Those in leadership, and I am speaking specifically about those in the 45+ age group, need to realize things are now different and their vast experience is dated. The world has changed. The core philosophy of needing only a small handful of leaders, and working to maintain this core while disempowering many others, is the antithesis of what’s needed for modern leadership in an online world. The new model is one of networks, and of many people each contributing in their own way and each having their own level of creative input into ideas and taking ownership. Asking people to turn up for a rally or to like a Facebook page is no longer enough. Even if they do it, they are not involved enough to become advocates for the cause.

Within organizations, those in control of budgets usually don’t get social media and are unwilling to commit resources. They expect everything on the internet to be free, every task done by volunteers, and anything that is done to be “good enough.” This attitude shows a complete disrespect both for the power of the medium and for the experts working in this field. Why do we respect our lawyer and accountants when asking them for advice, but not show that respect for our computer science, information technology, and digital media graduates? Until we realize these people are very highly paid in their professional work, and their time is often worth as much as the lawyers and the doctors, we will have a problem. Until we start inviting many of them onto our boards and management committees, out lay-leadership will have a blind spot.

As September draws near, we need to put more attention on online public diplomacy. We need to stop focusing on what each of our organizations can do to get recognized. We need to stop focusing on how we can do the minimum necessary to look active without investing resource. We need to stop shifting the burden to our volunteers and asking them to repost organizational links. We need to decide if Israel is worth our commitment, and if it is we need to get serious.

We need to decide if we are ready to properly resource projects. We need to decide if we can afford to engage experts. We need to recognize the difference between a volunteer who is good at using social media and a social media professional. That last one is the difference between going to a first aider or a doctor when you are seriously ill. We need to start to work together, to share ideas, financial resources and even staff. We need to make getting the job done, and not getting the headlines, our goal. Unless we start to make a change, my prediction is that when September comes we will once again be caught napping. Let’s not miss this opportunity, let’s at least start the reform and modernization process.

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Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 1)

Categories: News Categories, Public Diplomacy: Tags: , ,

Published as: Andre Oboler, Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 1), Jerusalem Post Blogs, 25 July 2011

As September draws near, both supporters of Israel and Palestinian activists are becoming more organized and are spending more time online planning, networking, and building both resources and infrastructure. As an expert in online advocacy, many of these plans end up on my desk. I receive not only the pro-Israel plans, but also copies of plans that Palestinian activists have been discussing – often with a note asking “what are we going to do about this?” This two part article discusses online public diplomacy for Israel and the threats and opportunity September provides.

Israel has always known the outcome of war is shaped by diplomats as much as it is by soldiers. Abba Eban’s role in the earlier years of the state, particularly at times of war, was phenomenal. Eban however engaged in more than simple diplomacy. He also invested his time heavily in the media and in meetings with American Jewry. This was a reflection of a changing reality. Along with diplomats and soldiers, public opinion started to play a role in determining the outcomes of war.

Governments soon started to respond to the need to have foreign populations think well of them, giving rise to the term “public diplomacy” which was coined in 1965. The formal history of public diplomacy however predates the coining of the terms, it goes back to the establishment of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1953. USIA sought to manage the world’s perception of the United States as a force for good, and at its peak spent 2 billion dollars a year of tax payers money on this task.

Modern public diplomacy has taken a new twist. This is a result of a change in media consumption from a one way broadcast medium to a two way dialogue. The result has been a shift from broadcasting to recruiting members of the public, or segments of civil society, to share your message indirectly. This can also be done by boosting the volume of existing fringe groups.

The debate over boycott laws and the limits of civil society action in Israel is really a debate about the role foreign funding may play in Israeli politics, and specifically the use of foreign funding to boost fringe opinions. Perhaps most worrying is when foreign governments engage in such internal manipulation. This is clearly public diplomacy, and equally clearly, as documented by NGO Monitor, it has been used to fund delegitimization within Israel.

The debate surrounding the New Israel Fund (NIF) can be seen as another aspect of the public diplomacy battle. NIF have dodged and weaved rather than coming out with a clear statement saying either: (a) NIF will not support any organization who supports BDS, regardless of that organization’s aim, or (b) NIF will support Israeli civil society organizations regardless of their position on BDS, provided they promote Israel democracy. Either of these positions is legitimate for an Israeli civil society organization.

The problem so many are having, is that only one of these positions is consistent with being Pro-Israel and the other fuel anti-Israel public diplomacy both symbolically and financially. The second position effectively says: when there is a war on about democratic rights, we will play a role in the public diplomacy effort, but when the war is about the continued legitimacy of the state, we will not commit. That’s a pretty powerful message. To take the first position for a minute, imagine how powerful it would be for the message that BDS is off limits if organizations like NIF made it a condition of funding? With a position like that from NIF and the left generally, the entire boycott law debate may never have arisen.

More than the media, the battle ground today is online. Unlike mass media, social media is interactive. The audience is also the content producer, people do their own filtering, find their own sources, and share with their friends and wider networks. Those pushing an agenda, on all sides are constantly seeking to break into these networks; to make your circle of friends share their content. They are seeking to set limits and promote unity in their sphere of commonality with their target audience, and to use this to drive a wedge between their target audience and others. There are also larger online public diplomacy projects, most run by experts, which are actively seeking to shape public opinion.

Electronic Intifada is one of the best of these, and seems to only grow stronger each year. On our side, well established sites like my own Zionism On The Web, which have run voluntarily for years, are not updated as regularly as they should be. This is typical of sites heavily reliant on the voluntary contribution of a few experts and which are intrinsically linked to these volunteers. One of the most prolific volunteers was Ami Isseroff and with his passing an entire network of pro-Israel and pro-peace sites have lost their spark. Come September, I’m pretty sure we’re going to notice.

However you look at it, the Palestinian narrative is dominant online. They seem to have better resources, more professionals, and allies from the far right to the far left that promote their narrative. They also work well together, sharing resources, content, and campaigns. The Jewish community’s own way of operating is ill-suited to the online world and problems in the relationship between Israel and Diaspora exacerbate our difficulties. September provides both a threat and an opportunity. If we are open to change, to cooperation, and to funding increased professionalism in the online activity of our communities, September could see significant growth and re-engagement with both Israel and local communities across the Jewish world. If not, well, it will be business as usual as we slip further and further behind.

Part two will discuss more of what we should be doing and what challenges we will face.

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The Fight against online hate

Categories: Antisemitism, CIE in the News, News Categories: Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Australian Jewish News (Sydney Edition) reports on the completion of the first stage of CIE’s new project to combat online hate. The first stage, funded by B’nei B’rith Australia and New Zealand, involved the design of a solution for emprically monitoring online hate, particularly in social media. The solution was presented at an experts meeting of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism which took place in Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in early July 2011. Following this meeting it was presented at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne. A report containing detailed information on the project was also created.

Source: Chantal Abitbol, The Fight against online hate, Australian Jewish News, 22 July 2011

Plans for Australian-designed software, which seeks to identify and disect online antisemitism, have been unveiled.

The system called Fight Against Hate is the brainchild of social media expert Andre Oboler, and forms one component of the Community Internet Engagement (CIE) project launched in Melbourne in January.

According to Oboler, its aim is to produce empirical data about the colume of online hate, focusing specifically on social-media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Its features include allowing the public to report content to a third party, separating data from questionable content, and producing trend reports on processed data. Over the past few weeks, Oboler has criss-crossed the globe to present the first-stage design of the softwarer — first at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in Israel and last weekend at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne.

“The response has been very positive,” Oboler told The AJN this week.

“The consensus is that this is something new and very much needed. And from the experts dealing with online hate, the view is that this is a tool that would allow them to do [much] deeper analysis, which they can’t really do at the moment. So far all we have is samples, not empirical data.

“The aim is to try and clean up social media,” Oboler said. “If we do that, we can start changing social values so that hate is again seen as not acceptable in society.”

Now all that is needed is the fundign to build it.

Oboler is trying to raise $230,000 to get it off the ground, with another $200,000 a year to cover operating costs. This is in addition to the CIE core operating budget.

“As soon as we have the funding we can start,” he said.

“What we hope is that the major donors in the Australian Jewish community are willing to step forward collectively so this solution can remain a primarily Australian initiative, covering not only antisemitism, but online hate in general. As a multicultural and innovative society, we believe it fitting that Australia is seen to take the lead in this arena.”

CIE NOTE: The CIE project has actually been operating since September 2009, not January (as indicated in this article), and its core funding is generously provided by the Pratt Foundation. The B’nei B’rith contribution provided additional capital to employ the additional staff needed for Fight Against Hate project.

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Jerusalem Report features CIE’s work combating online antisemitism

Categories: Antisemitism, CIE in the News, News Categories: Tags: , , ,

Lawrence Rifkin, The (Sometimes) Antisocial Network, Jerusalem Report, May 9 2011

Israel and Jewish organizations are scrambling to exploit the good side of Internet 2.0, but also to minimize its potential for spreading anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments.

NOT LONG AGO, IF THE conversation veered toward anti-Semitism on the Internet, it would focus on what seemed like an endless number of dedicated hate sites. These sites were so ubiquitous that Google, which relies on complex computer codes called algorithms to find entries that are relevant to what’s typed in its search window, would trumpet the hate site Jew Watch at the very top of its results for the word “Jew.”

The barrage of complaints that rolled in apparently made Google rethink at least some of its algorithms – so that typing the word “Jew” now brings in, high on the list of results, the following disclaimer: “If you recently used Google to search for the word “Jew,” you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.

…Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.

A search for ‘Jew’ brings up one such unexpected result.”

While there is far more than just one “unexpected result” (dedicated hate sites have probably multiplied since the Google/Jew uproar was first heard), some of the hatred has been migrating to a still evolving phenomenon called Internet 2.0. A sobriquet conjured up to imply a completely new Internet – which, in a way, it is – Internet 2.0 is unlike traditional websites designed for passive use. Internet 2.0 is built around what’s called “interoperability.”

This is hi-tech-speak for user interaction, and its denizens include social networking sites like the immensely popular Facebook and video-sharing sites such as Google’s YouTube, where, according to publicists, the servers upload 35 hours worth of footage from users every minute.

INTERNET 2.0 BRINGS PEOPLE together and further democratizes an already democratic medium. It allows anyone with a computer browser and modem – and no web publishing knowledge at all – to post text, photos, audio recordings and videos on the World Wide Web, usually for free.

That’s clearly a significant upside, and to revert to an old catchphrase, it can be very good for the Jews.

On Facebook alone, one can find any number of pages devoted to things Jewish and Israeli, ranging from organizations such as Chabad, USY and Peace Now to ad hoc groups calling themselves “I Stand with Israel Today” and “I’m Not Yelling… I’m Jewish… That’s How We Talk.” And as for YouTube, who among us in the lead-up to Passover did not receive at least one e-card or e-mail linked to an impressive holiday video presentation or a hilarious rendition of an old classic somehow reworked into a modern-day iteration of Moses and the 10 plagues? Israeli officials responsible for hasbara – a Hebrew term that refers to explaining Israel’s official policies and points of view – have zeroed in on Internet 2.0. The army has its own YouTube “channel” (www.youtube.com/ user/idfnadesk) with how-to videos for soonto- be inductees – along with spy drone footage of rocket-launching crews at work in Gaza.

And Benjamin Netanyahu got in on the act in late March when he was interviewed in a live television broadcast that, because it simultaneously appeared on YouTube, allowed questions to be put verbally to the prime minister in real time from around the world.

The official Internet 2.0 face of Israel is the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Internet Department.

“Over two years ago, we noticed that more and more people are getting their information from social media and not just from websites,” department head Chaim Shacham tells The Jerusalem Report. “We don’t really have a strong sense of where the best hasbara should be, so we decided to go where most of the people are.”

The department has its own Facebook page (www.facebook.com/israelmfa), You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/israel) and Twitter account (www.twitter.com/israel), and uses them for what might be termed “proactive hasbara.”

“We view our business as branding Israel, not defending it,” Shacham says. “More and more people can identify with Israel if they can identify with the content. People using the new media usually want a burst of information and then to be drawn in. We use Internet 2.0 as a net, and then try to guide them to Internet 1.0 for a reservoir of content.”

On Facebook, the netting process begins when a client looks up a friend. The friend’s page reflects things he or she does and likes. If the friend has seen the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page and recommends it to others, the friend will note this with the nowomnipresent “Like.” And because so much of Facebook relies on links – perhaps the World Wide Web’s most unique tool – if the friend hasn’t posted a “Like” for the ministry’s page, there’s a chance the client will link to the page of a mutual friend who has.

Once you reach the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page you’ll see Shacham’s “burst of information,” links that take you to his “Internet 1.0,” the ministry’s dedicated website (www.mfa/gov.il). That site is jam-packed with just about everything you might want to know about Israel – or, to be more blunt, just about everything Israel would want you to know. It is, after all, about branding.

“Yes, we want people to know about issues,” he tells The Report. “But we want them to learn about them while learning about Israel with its rich history, about the innovative Israel with hi-tech success and business opportunities, and about the Israel experience, with its tourism, arts and multiculturalism.”

Of course, as with any website, the address of one’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitter page is important: the simpler and more direct, the easier it is to remember. The Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Twitter pages once had the “MFA” suffix that its Facebook page still has, but just plain “Israel” has been the goal.

“YouTube was withholding the name and we had to go through a lengthy process to prove we were the official representative of the Israeli government,” Shacham explains. “With Twitter it was a little different. It turns out that a pornographer in Florida whose first name is Israel owned the name. We ended up paying him $5,000 for the rights.”

SO MUCH FOR THE UP – or lighter – side of Internet 2.0. Its biggest downside, on the other hand, is the ease of accessibility for purveyors of hatred and hostility. And with regard to Israel, these are not limited just to anti-Semites or Israel-bashers.

They prominently included Jews and Israelis who vent their wrath on Arabs and on each other.

The recent brouhaha over a Facebook advocacy page in Arabic titled The Third Intifada serves as an illustration. On the surface, The Third Intifada exhorted followers from the West Bank and other Arab countries to stage something of a “million-man march” right up to the border with Israel on May 15, the Gregorian date of Israel’s independence and a day the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or the catastrophe. However, according to critics, the page had an undertone that could be construed as incitement to hatred and even violence against both Israelis and Jews, while user comments often were much less subtle.

Jewish watchdog groups, such as the Anti- Defamation League, appealed to Facebook, which in late March, after a bit of foot dragging, removed the page. Nonetheless, it has since reappeared in several forms, in turn spawning Facebook pages such as “Against the Third Palestinian Intifada” and “Crush the Third Intifada Page.”

“New ways of using the web, such as social networking sites like Facebook and user-generated content sites such as YouTube, have led to an explosion of online bullying,” says Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director for civil rights. “Social networking sites are also used to promulgate hate and extremist content, increasing the depth and breadth of hate material that is available and which confronts nonextremist users,” she tells The Report.

Lauter says her organization works directly with “service providers such as Facebook” to confront the problem.

“Our discussions are fruitful and ongoing,” she says. “It is critical to note that the amount of material – Facebook has hundreds of millions of pages, YouTube has hours of videos uploaded every second, and Twitter has 140 million tweets per day – makes it virtually impossible for pre-posting policing of material.”

Replying to a Jerusalem Report query on the Intifada page matter, Facebook spokesman Simon Axten e-mailed the following – apparently boilerplate – response: “[W]e don’t typically take down content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.

However, we monitor Pages that are reported to us, and when they degrade to direct calls for violence or expressions of hate, we have and will continue to remove them.”

The spokesman referred to the specific issue as follows: “The Third Palestinian Intifada Page, while using a term that has been associated with violence in the past [referring to the term Intifada - ed], began as a call for peaceful protest. In addition, the administrators initially removed comments that promoted violence. However, once the Page gathered publicity, comments deteriorated to direct calls for violence, and eventually, the Page administrators themselves also participated in these calls. After sending several warnings to the administrators about posts that violated our policies, we removed the Page.”

ENTER ANDRE OBOLER, A SOCIAL media expert who directs the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia and co-chairs the working group on online anti-Semitism for the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. Oboler holds a PhD in computer science and in 2007-2008 was a post-doctoral fellow in political science at Israel’s Bar- Ilan University.

Taking his cue from the moniker given the new interactive Internet when it began gathering speed several years ago, Oboler coined the term “anti-Semitism 2.0.”

“The difference from classic anti-Semitism,” he tells The Report, “is that it tries to put on a socially acceptable face. Success here lowers social resistance to bigotry.”

By way of example, Oboler says he is bothered less by Stormfront, an openly anti- Semitic website run by white supremacists, than he is with the ostensibly benign Facebook, which can give similar material a veneer of respectability.

“I’m not so concerned about the spread of hate among people who hate us already,” he says. “I’m far more concerned about the spread of hate material to our friends and to those we’d want to be our friends in the future.”

Beyond the veneer, he says, the issue is also in the presentation.

“Anti-Semitism 2.0 mixes 50 percent racism and 50 percent claims of why it’s not racism. It compares Israel to Nazis, but goes on to say ‘we’re not racists,’ and then offers what it calls citations, but which are not really citations,” Oboler explains.

He claims that this modus operandi is particularly striking on Wikipedia. “You see a lot of things that are referenced to faulty, misused and fictitious citations. It is an attempt to portray hatred as an academic argument, all wrapped up in a legitimate website rather than an overtly hateful site.”

An overtly hateful website, he goes on, is much easier to have removed or filtered by search engines. “But you’re not going to pull down Facebook because of the anti-Semitism it contains. So the question is, what sort of ethical stand are Facebook and YouTube, for example, going to take on enforcement against hate messages?” Facebook’s Axten offers a short and, again, stock explanation of policy.

“Facebook is highly self-regulating,” his statement reads. “We provide report links on nearly every page and encourage people to let us know when they see something they think might violate our standards. Our team of investigators reviews and takes action on reported content according to our policies.”

Paul Solomon, spokesman for YouTube in Israel, is equally succinct. “Essentially, the community is the first line of defense. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that they do violate the Guidelines, we remove them.”

Yet he provides a bit of depth by explaining just how the company’s review system works: “There are three components,” Solomon wrote in response to a request from The Report.

“1) The community flags the video. Despite the rumor that flagging campaigns will remove a video, a single flag is sufficient to trigger this system. 2) Our algorithms prioritize the video in the queue. The algorithms examine things like flesh tones (for sexual content), the history of previous flags (i.e., has it been flagged and approved before?), and a few other demographic factors. 3) Our reviewers perform a manual review using our review tool.”

In reconsidering a video, YouTube looks at both content and intent.

“Consider, for example, the video of the death of [post-election demonstrator] Neda Soltan in Iran,” Solomon continues. “We have policies that prohibit shocking or graphic content.

On the face of it, a video showing a young woman bleeding to death would likely be removed if it were flagged. But we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) value, provided that it is balanced with the additional context.”

More recently, the Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which, according to its website, looks for mass incitement and demonization against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, had a run-in with YouTube, where it maintained its own channel. Apparently, an organized flagging campaign was mounted against PMW, and YouTube, most likely having taken only a superficial look without considering the context, eventually removed enough PMW videos to justify shutting down the entire channel – which, after a short appeal process, was reopened.

The same happened to a photo presentation uploaded by Jewish settlers after the government, in a highly controversial move, released graphic and gruesome photos of the bodies of five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby, who were butchered in their West Bank settlement in March. The move, Israeli officials openly said, was intended to show the true brutality of Arab terrorism, but YouTube looked at the content and said no – although it later relented.

Facebook and YouTube seem to have divergent approaches, Oboler tells The Report.

“With YouTube it’s ‘If in doubt, remove.’With Facebook it’s, ‘If in doubt, don’t remove.’” In a report published earlier this year, Oboler illustrates that flags and even written complaints might not always be enough, even with YouTube, where a group calling itself “theytnazism” presented a “list of people we hate and we want to kill… 1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians.”

“I reported this to YouTube in February [2010],” Oboler writes, “and on November 22 – 10 months later – [the group’s YouTube page] was still active…. I then included [a screenshot of the page] in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organization in France… and suddenly the group was gone.”

He believes this was not coincidental, as other groups he had complained to YouTube about, but never mentioned publicly, remained online.

“It’s all good and well to tell the public to report things,” Oboler tells The Report.

“Having people flag things is far more effective than any algorithms. But what happens afterward? The problem is how you decide when you’ve crossed the bridge. The driving force that pushes these companies to do anything is public pressure. It becomes a threat in a corporate sense.”

In a forthcoming report titled “A legal model for government intervention to combat online hate,” Oboler, as part of his work with the Zionist Federation of Australia, calls on that country to broaden existing anti-hate laws to more effectively combat the growing phenomenon on the Internet.

“Governments have a responsibility to take an active role in the online world; if they don’t they cannot meet their wider obligations to the people they serve,” he writes. “The powers, rights and limitations that apply to governments and private citizens in the real world need to be reflected online.”

He also aims his words at “[t]hose advising clients in the technology sector,” warning them that they “should be aware of the potential for increased government intervention.”

Oboler tells The Report that “the use of new media technology can bring governments and communities together. It’s just a channel that can be used for good and for ill, and we have to maximize its use for good.”

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A legal model for government intervention to combat online hate

Categories: Antisemitism, Features, News Categories, Research Reports: Tags: , ,

Published as: Andre Oboler, A legal model for government intervention to combat online hate, Internet Law Bulletin 14(2), May 2011
  • Racial hate propaganda is unlawful in Australia, and this extends to non-private online communications. This may create liabilities for technology companies.
  • International discussions have highlighted the need for both national and international engagement on the problem of online racism. More active government involvement is inevitable in the future and poses a manageable risk to technology companies.
  • The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) provides a model for technology-based remedies to unlawful acts that take place online. This could serve as a template for remedies to other types of unlawful acts, including the spread of online hate propaganda.
  • The Attorney General’s announcement of a possible extension of “safe harbour” provisions in the Copyright Act to a larger range of service providers raises the questions of similar provisions for other unlawful activity facilitated by these providers.
  • Lawyers advising clients who provide non-private online spaces should consider a range of legal developments in other areas, and should consider how similar provisions in the area of online hate may affect their clients. Engineering solutions to limit risk are possible and could be integrated into future development if considered pre-emptively.

Introduction

Online hate is the use of the internet to harass, defame, discriminate or incite against a person or group. It is a significant problem within the online world.1 Hate propaganda forms a more limited class of content: it includes content “aimed at, or with the effect of, inciting hatred or contempt for individuals or groups of individuals identifiable on the basis of personal characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender, family status, marital status, and sexual identity that have historically formed the basis of socially imposed disadvantage”. 2 Some, but not all, aspects of hate propaganda are unlawful in Australia as a result of Commonwealth and state anti-discrimination legislation.

One form of hate that is unlawful at both Commonwealth and state level is racial discrimination. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) are examples of legislative provisions broad enough to directly tackle hate propaganda. There are, however, serious difficulties in the practical application of such laws to hate propaganda that occurs online. This is particularly true when third party platforms are involved.

This paper begins with a look at the existing law and its adaptability to meet growing demands that the government tackles online hate. It then examines the disempowerment of governments in the online world. Finally, it discusses the opportunity for companies to re-empower government and side-step the difficulties associated with policing their online spaces to prevent hate propaganda.

Online hate and the law

The internet is a powerful medium. Revolutions, enabled by online tools, have recently topped governments, and comparisons have been made to the role of mass printing in the 1848 revolutions in Europe. 3 That much power, if used for hate propaganda, presents a real threat to society.

The danger of online hate propaganda was recently recognised in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism’s Ottawa Protocol, which called for more research, expert advice and international cooperation into online hate. 4

Within Australia, racially-based hate propaganda is unlawful. Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes unlawful acts that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate”, on the basis of a person’s race. This section was applied to internet material in Jones v Toben 5 and resulted in orders for hate propaganda to be removed from the internet, as well as orders restraining republication.

The Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act gives two standards of racial vilification, noting in both cases that the sections apply to “use of the internet or e-mail to publish or transmit statements or other material”. 6 This approach stands in stark contrast to efforts that address the specific nature of the online world in areas such as online copyright reform.

Government’s active engagement with the online world

Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, recently noted that copyright reform “is challenging because of the speed of technological developments” and that “legislative solutions can lag behind reality”. 7 He championed government engagement and the need to “continually examine the areas of copyright that are ripe for reform”. 8 He explained the challenge saying “governments are being asked to try to find a national solution to a global problem — and to do this without stymieing growth in new technology and market solutions that deliver content to the community”. This challenge exists in all interactions between government and the online world, including combating online hate.

In tackling digital copyright, new concepts such as the “safe harbour” provisions were created. These provisions give internet access providers a way to limit their liability for specific cases of copyright breach by taking active measures to facilitate general compliance. The measures access providers need to take are given in s 116AH of the Copyright Act. They include having a policy allowing termination of the accounts of repeat infringers, and compliance with industry codes aimed at protecting copyright material. 9 Specific requirements are made for four types of activity a provider may engage in, each requirement closely tied to the way technology is used for that activity. 10

Specific technical remedies can be written into law

The Copyright Act also provides enumerated remedies. Where the carrier acts as a conduit for information a user requested, the remedies are an order to terminate the users account, 11 or to limit access to material hosted overseas. 12 In the case of automatic caching, providing a user with storage capacity, or facilitating connections, the remedies include an order to terminate the user’s account, 13 to remove or disable access to the offending material, 14 or any other less burdensome non-monetary order necessary. 15 The Attorney-General has said that the “purpose of the scheme is to provide legal incentives for ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to cooperate with copyright owners in deterring infringement of copyright”. 16

The Attorney-General also suggested the “safe harbour” provisions be extended beyond access providers. 17 This would require the law to gain an understanding of the nature of these services, as it has done with access providers. Many of these providers will be publishers of users’ content, and laws setting standards for copyright may provide a model for handling other forms of unlawful conduct including the promotion of hate propaganda.

As the technology paradigm changes, so must the law

Access providers connect physically to the customer, so they must have a presence in Australia. Even when mediating communications within Australia, other service providers may be located entirely outside Australia. International mechanisms are needed to address issues that arise, these exist for copyright but not for the prevention of online hate propaganda. For now, as major service providers operate with such a large degree of autonomy over their online spaces, it begins to look like sovereignty, except for their care over copyright.

In reality, the rights of internet service providers are based on property and contracts law. It is their property rights over servers, networks and data storage devices, as well as intellectual property over source code, that gives technology companies authority. Participation in the virtual community is conditional on a licence to access the company’s property. The terms of this licence, literally the “terms of service”, give the company power to regulate users’ activity.

The legal concept of property refers not to objects but to the rights people have in them. 18 In the digital world, these rights, or the closest thing we have to them, are created by a company’s terms of service. These rights can be abrogated or altered by statute, but the law will need to enter the digital world and regulate the activity rather than the technology.

A foundation for further engagement

In entering the digital world, governments need to reassert their rights. The power of internet companies may be legally based on property and contracts, but “property” in a resource stops where the infringement of more basic human rights and freedoms begins”. 19 In some jurisdictions, issues over privacy are now causing governments to assert themselves. 20 In Australia, the protection of human dignity is said to provide a basis for equities intervention. 21 As the Supreme Court of New Jersey observed:

[P]roperty rights serve human values. They are recognised to that end, and are limited by it. 22

Today, private companies like Facebook seem to be able to ignore complaints from governments, 23 even over content calling for genocide and war crimes. 24 Instead, they are swayed by the media and online public opinion. 25 I have previously discussed a penalty model that could hold technology companies responsible when they fail to respond in reasonable time. 26 Another approach is for government to intervention in the online world itself. Technology companies, like Facebook, would need to provide the tools, either voluntarily or in response to legislation. Similar requirements already exist in phone systems to enable wiretaps. 27

Powers governments may request, or legislate to require, include:

  • the ability to delete public groups/pages;
  • the ability to suspend accounts; and
  • the ability to trace users and stored communications to an IP address.

In each case, this power could be limited to content controlled by users from within the country’s territory. Checks and balances, including judicial oversight, could be included. Judges could give time limited authorisation, and all activities done using the authorisation could be logged. By empowering government, technology companies may be able to side step the problems and potential liabilities of online hate.

Conclusion

The current law in Australia makes race-based hate propaganda unlawful, but does not effetely tackle the online problem. Law reform may create greater liabilities for companies, or cases may establish existing liability. The development of copyright law provides a template for more technology specific remedies, and discussions on extending “safe harbour” provisions may provide an opportunity to discuss generally new considerations and remedies to unlawful acts online.

Those advising clients in the technology sector should be aware of the potential for increased government intervention. In particular, the mechanisms of the Copyright Act and the Telecommunications (Interceptions and Access) Act may suggest possible approaches government may consider to ensuring compliance with the Racial Discrimination Act in the future. Building such capabilities into platforms now may prevent future risk and disruption from legal reform.

Governments have a responsibility to take an active role in the online world; if they don’t, they cannot meet their wider obligations to the people they serve. The powers, rights and limitations that apply to governments and private citizens in the real world need to be reflected online. The discussion over updates to the Copyright Act provides an opportunity to consider a wider picture of government involvement online.

Dr Andre Oboler,
Director, Community Internet Engagement Project
Zionist Federation of Australia.

1 Digital Journal Staff, “Online hate” (2003) Digital Journal, available at www.digitaljournal.com;

2 J Bailey, “Private regulation and public policy: towards effective restriction of Internet hate propaganda” (2003) 49 McGill Law Journal 59, fn 6, pp 63–64.

3 F Zakaria, “Why it’s different this time” (2011) Time Magazine (New York) 30–31.

4 A Oboler, “The ICCA tackles online hate” (2011) 13 Internet Law Bulletin 178.

5 Jones v Toben (2002) 71 ALD 629; (2002) EOC 93-247; [2002] FCA 1150; pp 655–656 at [113].

6 See, eg, Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic), ss 7 and 24.

7 R McClelland, “Address to the Blue Sky Conference on future directions in Copyright law”, speech delivered at the Blue Sky Conference on future directions in Copyright law, Sydney, 25 February 2011.

8 See above note 8.

9 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AH(1).

10 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AH(1).

11 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AG(3)(b).

12 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AG(3)(a).

13 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AG(4)(b).

14 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AG(4)(a).

15 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), s 116AG(4)(c).

16 Above note 8.

17 Above note 8.

18 R Chambers, An Introduction to Property Law in Australia, 2nd edition, Lawbook Co, 2008, p 5.

19 K Gray, “Property in thin air” (1991) 50 The Cambridge Law Journal 252, 297.

20 Letter from Jennifer Stoddart, Alex Turk, Peter Schaar, et al, to Erich Schmidt, accessed 19 April 2010, available at www.online.wsj.com.

21 Above note 21, p 226 at [43].

22 New Jersey v Shack (1971) 277 A 2d 369, 372 (NJ, 1971).

23 E Levy, “Israel tells Facebook: remove intifada page”, on Ynet News, 23 March 2011, available at www.ynetnews.com.

24 A Oboler, “Facebook and the third intifada: the aftermath”, on Jerusalem Post, 30 March 2011, available at www.blogs.jpost.com.

25 A Oboler, “The rise and fall of a Facebook hate group”, (2008) 13 First Monday, available at www.firstmonday.org.

26 A Oboler, “Time to regulate internet hate with a new approach” (2010) 13 Internet Law Bulletin 102.

27 Telecommunications (Interceptions and Access) Act (1979)(Cth), s 189.

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Meet Gilad 2.0 Launched

Categories: Features, News Categories, Public Diplomacy: Tags:

We’ve just launched the new and vastly improved Meet Gilad 2.0 campaign platform. This new platform is multilingual, lets organisations retail local control of the campaign, and aggregates world wide efforts for Gilad in one global framework. Last year we let people send message to Gilad, now you can send a new message to Gilad and once you have done that you can send messages of support to the Shalit family, and to the international community who should be doing more for Gilad, specifically the United Nations, Red Cross, European Union, Palestinian Authority, International Criminal Court, and various NGO’s.

Read more about the campaign at: http://www.meetgilad.com/?page_id=37

And please spread the world. This campaign will run until the end of August 2011.

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Web searching gets personal for Israeli teen

Categories: Technology: Tags: , ,

Source:

In an attempt to organize the Web experience on a whole new level, 19-year-old Daniel Gross and his $4.7 million budding company have created a personalized search toolbar to index and sort through all of the user’s online data.

“More and more people in the world are approaching this point where a lot of information you have is online on a bunch of different websites,” Gross said, reminiscent for the times when computer users could just press “Control+F” and find necessary information on their computer hard drives. “What hit me hard was events,” he added, frustrated that a whole host of places, like Evite, Facebook and Gmail, could all contain different appointments and social gatherings.

The result – a free tool called “Greplin,” which allows subscribers to add as many websites as desired to their accounts so that the program can search through all the data in one place. If a user knows he or she had scheduled a meeting at a local coffee shop, for example, but can neither remember the time of the meeting nor where that information was stored, Greplin’s goal is to provide a quick answer.

Greplin – whose name comes from a combination of the words “grep,” a programming term used in search utilities, and “zeppelin,” the online “cloud,” or network – currently has around $700,00 worth of angel investments and about $4 million in series A (first round) finances.

“More and more of the information we have and consume is not sitting on our hard-dive – it’s on some other service,” Gross said. “Why can’t I have this box and type text into it and get results about items that I own on the Internet?” “If you think of Google, it’s a great way to search the public Internet – we’re primarily building a ‘Google’ but for your things,” he added.

Gross, who for the last 15 months has been living in San Francisco, was born and raised in Jerusalem, after his parents made aliya from America. After finishing high school in Israel, he successfully applied for a grant from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed funder for start-ups.

“Y Combinator is boot camp for start-ups,” Gross said, explaining that participants are generally awarded investments between $12,000 and $20,000. “The goal is for you to take that money and go through this three-month program where they give you basic building blocks on how to be a good company.”

The idea that Gross originally used in his grant application was not Greplin, however, but a website like eBay with a social networking structure so that buyers and sellers could see what their friends’ consumer patterns were. This concept then evolved into yet another idea, which in turn ended up not working at the last minute, toward the end of the grant period. So Gross said he needed to quickly think of something else to impress the judges – representatives from various investment groups that were coming to learn about that season’s Y Combinator projects.

“I essentially built a basic form of Greplin in the last 48 hours,” Gross said, and this basic model had surprising success with the investors who attended the March 2010 event.

Deciding he wanted to expand upon the idea, Gross said he joined up six months ago with company co-founder Robby Walker, an intellectual phenomenon who began college at nine years old and had a PhD by age 20, who at the time was working at Google and had done Y Combinator in the past.

“People like him have this desire to build things,” Gross said. “They love building products.”

Greplin launched an initial public version of the website in November, but because “a lot of people tried to use it,” the site “crashed” and had to be restructured, Gross said. Since then, he explained, the site has been “re-launched a million times before it worked,” but now is working properly.

The company’s most recent developments include a $4 million investment fromSequoia Capital that closed in December and went public in February, along with the hiring of three new employees.

“Greplin has the potential to be a killer app,” said Dr.

Andre Oboler, social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“What it adds is the convenience of everything in one place, while at the same time asserting its independence.

With the larger players already having so much information on each of us, the last thing we need is for them to be aggregating our data.

Greplin lets the user enjoy the benefits of aggregation without the need for crosssharing between platforms. I have no doubt that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other sites will soon start competing for this space, but personally, I’d much rather trust Greplin.

“Greplin is carving an important niche for itself in a market where there is decreasing trust in the major players.

As an independent aggregation of personal information, Greplin has the potential to put the customer first, and that may prove to be a major commercial advantage.”

Greplin never actually gets to see users’ passwords on their various online accounts being searched, because similar to what occurs in Facebook “app” usage, the subscriber grants Greplin access through each individual site – upon adding Facebook to the index, for example, a Facebook page will pop up asking the user if he or she wants to grant access to Greplin, according to Gross. The same occurs on websites like Gmail, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange and Twitter, and the technical term for such a process is called “OAuth,” which standards for Open Authorization.

“We have never stored a single password,” Gross said.

While basic usage is free, Greplin is now beginning to charge ($5 and $15 monthly plans) for storing more data and adding certain “premium” sites to user indexes, those that required “quite a bit of computational force” on the part of the Greplin staff, Gross explained. One such site would be Salesforce, which offers businesses massive customer relationship management tools, according to Gross.

“Is it something that business users will have a tendency to use? Is it very expensive for us to index?” Gross said were some the questions that go into deciding if a site should be considered “premium.”

Asked whether the public should be expecting anything new from Greplin in the near future, he responded, “We don’t have any solid product launches coming up in the next few days but we will soon.”

Gross’s interest and skills in computer science stem back to his childhood.

“I was sort of always interested in this as a kid and my father is a computer science teacher in Israel,” Gross said.

“I was always curious and I had the tools to learn.”

Attending university to accrue even more such tools is “on the list of things I have to do,” Gross added, noting that “there seems something to be gained by having education in the arts that I don’t have” – so he plans to apply to college, though not tomorrow.

“My parents are Jewish, so I think I have to,” he said, laughing.

Gross wouldn’t comment on how he is dealing with his requirement to serve in the IDF. He has no immediate plans to return to Israel but he said that he had initially expected to come back right away and still remains surprised that he didn’t.

“I constantly thought to myself I’d be back a month later and then three months later,” Gross said. “But once we actually took funding, I realized I couldn’t just back out. I have other people’s money invested in the success of my company.”

When asked to give a statement about Gross’s case and his obligation to enlist, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said he “did not show up for induction and is currently out of the country. Upon his return to Israel, he’ll be handled by the relevant authorities.”

By Sharon Udasin

http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.aspx?id=214099

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