Features

The online campaign to recognise Palestine

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

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 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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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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Dr Oboler’s report on the ICCA and online hate

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

Published as: Andre Oboler, The ICCA tackles online hate, Internet Law Bulletin, Febuary / March 2011

Dr Andre Oboler ZIONIST FEDERATION OF AUSTRALIA

In November 2010, the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) held its second conference; parliamentarians and experts from over 40 countries attended.

The conference, held at the Canadian Parliament, was hosted in partnership with the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Australian involvement included Michael Danby MP, Senator Scott Ryan and four Australian experts.

The Ottawa conference ran working groups in parallel tracks for the Experts Forum and the parliamentarians. The conclusions of each pair of working groups were delivered to a combined plenum and informed the drafting of the Ottawa Protocol that was unanimously adopted by the parliamentarians.

The Online Antisemitism Working Group had a panel of five speakers. Christopher Wolf, a US technology lawyer, discussed Anwar al-Awalaki whose YouTube videos incite racial hatred and terrorism. Wolf called on the technology companies to deny their services to this virtual hate rally, as they would to a real world hate rally.

Rabbi Cooper, of Simon Wiesenthal Center, questioned the American approach of more speech in response to hate speech. He showed the link between online hate and terrorism. Marc Saltzman, a technology journalist, spoke on smart phones that allow updates on the go, with less thought. He argued we need the right combination of law, education and activism to address online hatred.

Cathy Wing, Media Awareness Network, focused on children now constantly exposed to hateful content. She expressed hope that online education against racism may have an impact. I examined the question of regulation and argued the social contract gave government an ultimate and irrevocable responsibility. The overall impression was that online hate is a fast moving field with a need for rapid access to both technical knowledge and government consideration. This was reflected in the final protocol.

The Ottawa Protocol notes that the gathered parliamentarians are “alarmed by the explosion of antisemitism and hate on the internet, a medium crucial for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and the participation of civil society”. The statement encapsulated a number of concerns expressed at the conference. Most notable was the concern that, left unregulated, the online world may be far less free than idealists believe. Racism and intimidation can dampen participation by minority groups and damage democracy.

The Ottawa Protocol commits the gathered parliamentarians to “establishing an international task force of internet specialists comprised of parliamentarians and experts to create common indicators to identify and monitor anti-Semitism and other manifestations of hate online and to develop policy recommendations for governments and international frameworks to address these problems”.

The establishment of a task force that contains both members of different parliaments and leading international experts is an opportunity. It creates a resource of international technical expertise for members of parliament and a dialogue for sharing best practise.

Most significantly, it provides a multilateral foundation from which companies can be addressed, monitored and held to account.

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

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Wikileaks: Assange’s address to Australia

Categories: CIE in the News, Features, Technology: Tags:

Source: Andre Oboler, Wikileaks: Assange’s address to Australia, Jerusalem Post Blog, Feb 6 2011.

At 5:40pm on Friday, Australian time, the BMW Edge at Melbourne’s Federation Square was full. The glass conference room, with a capacity of 700, lies in the heart of the city; geographically as well as culturally. The e-mail I received warned that seats to this free event would go fast. Right on time, twenty minutes after standing room ran out, the event got underway. An overflow crowd of 600 watched on the big screen in the outdoors square. The event was titled, “Wikileaks and free speech.”

There was some serious backing to this event including Liberty Victoria, the grassroots organisation Get Up! and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. They were joined by Future Leaders, a philanthropic initiative, as well as three major representative bodies: The Law Institute Victoria, the recognised professional association for solicitors, The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the peak union and professional organisation for the media, entertainment, sports and arts industries, and Victorian Trades Hall Council, the peak trade union body in Victoria.

Outside of Israel, such diverse cooperation in the name of democratic principles is rare. This diverse mobilisation of civil society, along with strong public support for Wikileaks, explains how the crowd of 1,100 people was gathered with just 4 days notice. Twitter, Facebook and “old fashioned” e-mail no doubt all played their part.

The opening remarks from Prof. Spencer Zifcak, President of Liberty Victoria, included a tongue-in-cheek welcome to members of the Australian intelligence services who might be in the audience. Mr Assange himself participated through an exclusive, pre-recorded, video address to the gathering.

In his message Mr Assange referred to the basic human decency Australians have shown in their support for each other during the recent floods, and thanked Australians for their support of Wikileaks. He refers to himself as a journalist used to “reporting the news,” later noting his years of membership in the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and how his first book was published fourteen years ago. While refusing to become mainstream if that prevented Wikileaks speaking truth to power, he sought to reframe Wikileaks as a media player that had been active long before the current controversy.

Assange declared the current times a “generational challenge”, drawing comparisons with the US civil rights struggles of the 1950s, the peace struggles of the late 1960’s, and recent environmental struggles. “This is our challenge, and this is our time” he declared. He framed the challenge itself as defence of the idea that “the citizenry has a right to scrutinize the state.” He warned that “individuals, not governments, have a right to privacy,” and that “strong powers must be held to account, while the weak must be protected.” In what is likely to become a cliché, he declared “we believe in transparent power, not in transparent people.”

Stating, “we are a media organisation, I am a publisher and I am a journalist,” Assange argued Wikileaks was nothing less than journalism in the public interest. He gave as examples of this leaks he claimed exposed illegal government actions by both the US and Australia. He called on Australians to insist that attacks on his staff and organisation stop, that he be allowed home, and that the Australian government “come clean” on its interactions with foreign governments in relation to Wikileaks. Julian Assange’s address was met with loud applause from the audience.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s UK based lawyer, joined the gathering through a skype video link. She argued there was a free speech and democratic public benefit that resulted from Wikileaks, and supported her argument with reference to the Sydney Peace Foundation’s award of a Gold Medal to Assange earlier that week. This was only the fourth times the foundation had awarded a Gold Medal in the last 14 years. Two of the other receipts were Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Christopher Warren, Federal Secretary of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, framed Wikileak’s difficulties as both a free speech and a freedom of the press issue. He said that information is held by governments on trust for the people, and the people have a right to know. He also told the audience the internet had changed journalism long before Wikileaks. In this new environment, he argued, Wikileaks and journalism generally, was doing no more than it had always done; publishing leaked documents in the public interest. Leaks he argued were as old as journalism itself.

Lizzie O’Shea, a public interest lawyer, drew a comparison with Egypt. She argued that the US attempt to shut down Wikileaks was similar to Egypt’s attempts to shut down the internet itself. She said the hypocrisy of modern statecraft was hard to stomach, and called Wikileaks the Pentagon papers of the twenty first century. She too echoed the cry that defending Wikileaks was defending freedom of the press.

Peter Gordon, a top Melbourne lawyer, argued that Australia’s Prime Minister and Attorney General, both personal friends of his, had departed from their true values when it came to Wikileaks, and needed reminding. Adam Bandt, Australia’s first Green Party member of the House of Representatives, expressed his support and that of his party for Wikileaks, and for online freedom.

Donations to support Julian Assange’s legal costs were solicited at the end. Donations made by card gave an option for residual funds to be returned to the donor or spent on Wikileaks. The flexibility highlighted the broad coalition of support from civil society organisations. The mountain of cash donations, which people gave instead, reflected the public’s unconditional support.

As the event was drawing to a close, the rain came down in a torrent. The Melbourne Art Centre, previously visible across the Yarra river, vanished in a sheet of rain. Out in the square, the Wikileak supporters mingled with those from another cause; a march in support of the Egyptian protestors.

At Federation Square, in the heart of the city, a crowd had gathered, and then dispersed. The rain continued to fall. Roads were closed and emergency services stretched to their limit. On the radio, a caller said a civilian had taken it upon themselves to direct traffic at a busy intersect. He had two complaints, the fist was the equal time being given to the two flows of traffic being controlled, the second that “they’re not even wearing a hi-vis vest!” Australia has much in common with Israel; a public concern for the welfare of strangers, the willingness to lend a hand in a crisis, and a respect for those who get stuck in and do things. Australian culture also demands that a “fair go” be given, and harbours a healthy disrespect for authority. For a diverse range of Australians, Wikileaks ticks all the right boxes.

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Egypt’s Internet Blackout

Categories: CIE in the News, Features, Technology: Tags: ,

Source: Andre Oboler, Egypt’s Internet Blackout, The Cutting Edge, 30 January  2011

The Egyptian Government has become the first in the world to turn off its the internet. As of January 28, almost all internet servers in Egypt are offline. Homes, businesses, foreign embassies, and Egyptian government departments are without internet access. Text messaging services (SMS) have also been turned off.

The move aims to prevent the Egyptian people from protesting, and Egyptian officials have specifically called on people not to congregate in public places after prayers. Renesys notes that the shutdown is reminiscent of efforts in Iran and Tunisia to slow the internet or shut down some main internet connections. The real purpose however is more in line with a “government crackdown on peace, goodwill, and social media.” It aims to discredit, disrupt, and ultimately censor anti-government protest.

The Encyclopedia of Terrorism lists the move to cut communications infrastructure as part of asymmetric warfare. It states, “Guerrilla tactics include ambush, avoiding open battle, cutting communication lines, and generally harassing the enemy.” In this case, the tactic is being used by the state, not the protestors. In cutting communications a state has more options. Egypt’s move is deep; they have effectively put a stop to almost all forms of modern mass communication.

The move was clearly the final stage in a planned shutdown. It started on Tuesday with efforts to block Twitter and Facebook. Twitter responded (in two tweets due to length) saying: “We can confirm that Twitter was blocked in Egypt around 8am PT today. It is impacting both Twitter.com & applications. (1/2)” and “Re Egypt block: We believe that the open exchange of info & views benefits societies & helps govts better connect w/ their people. (2/2).” The story was picked up by the media, including The Los Angeles Times, who kept following the story, reporting two days later that the block had extended to Blackberry service.

The final stage was a complete Internet blackout. It was well planned, with multiple connection points going down simultaneously. Huffington Post reports that the trigger seems to have been a video from AP showing anti-government protestors being shot. It’s likely it was simply part of a graduated response that was escalating as it became clear protests would not be halted.

The final move stops not only coordination by anti-government forces, but also communication among Egyptian citizens, and communication between Egyptian citizens and the outside world. If we think of the internet as river, with little boats carrying boxes of “YouTube,” “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “e-mail,” and other types of messages, what Egypt has done upstream is build a giant dam.

The problem with dams, of course, is that the pressure will continue to build. Without an outlet, the communication cutoff will drive more people to protest and to engage in more grass roots and local activism. Equally significant, when the internet turns back on, the dam will break—and the flood of anti-government sentiment will likely drown everything in its path. Let’s not forget, the internet can’t stay off for long; commerce, government and modern society is just too dependent on it. While the shutdown may have been meticulously planned, likely with military precision, like most wars, the question of “afterwards” is unlikely to have been asked, let alone answered.

One thing however is clear: sovereign nations do ultimately control the internet within their borders. Egypt has shown they can ultimately turn it off. Technology companies, citizens, and the internet industry should take note. Once the road was free, without rules; then, government stepped in. The same will inevitably happen with the internet, and what the resulting balance it, and what rights the public have to unimpeded connectivity, is a matter not for companies but for the social contract between citizens and government. If something is to be salvaged from the current chaos, it may be the recognition of connectivity as a new human right in a globalised world. For now, let’s just hope the lights stay on and the Egyptians still remember their Morse code.

Andre Oboler is a social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Lancaster University (UK) and was a Post Doctoral Fellow in Political Science at Bar-Ilan University (Israel).

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Commandment 614: Learning about the Holocaust may not be fun

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

Andre Oboler, Commandment 614: Learning about the Holocaust may not be fun, Jerusalem Post Blog, 27 January 2011

Late last year reports surfaced in the media that Maxim Genis , an Israeli Jew born in Ukrainian, had cancelled the release of a computer game he spent four years building after pressure from the US based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others.

The game, a first person shooter, put the player in the role of a member of the Sonderkommando, a member of the “special unit” (almost entirely Jewish) who worked in the crematoriums and were tasked with disposing of the bodies of those gasses by the Nazis. The first task of any new Sonderkommando unit was disposing of their predecessors, and 2 to 4 months later the same would usually happen to them. Unlike many Jews murdered in the death camps, the Sonderkommando knew exactly what lay in store for them.
On October 7th, 1944 the Sonderkommando rose up against SS. Filip Muller, a member of the Sonderkommando, described what occurred: “Chaim Neuhof, a Jew from Sosnowice, who had been a member of the Sonderkommando since 1942, approached SS Staff Sergeant Busch and after a brief exchange, yelled the password “Hurrah” and struck the SS man with a hammer.” In the uprising that followed, one of the crematoria was destroyed and a number of SS officers killed. The Sonderkommando involved, the women who supplied them with explosives, and other elements of the resistance within the camps, were all hunted down and shot, hung or gassed. Not all Jews went to the gas like lambs to the slaughter.
The Sonderkommandos are often the subject of contempt. Primo Levi called them “akin to collaborators” for their role in the Nazi killing machine. Other survivors and the Jewish establishment tend to view them negatively as well. They in turn argue they had no choice and were as much victims as any others.
Maxim Genis’s game is built on a game from 19 years ago, Wolfenstein 3D. This was the original first person shooter game, and it too took place against the Nazi. In Wolfenstein 3D the player is an American soldier trying to escape a Nazi stronghold and the aim is to kill as many Nazi as possible on the way out. Genis’s game by contrast is simply about getting out. Where Wolfenstein 3D shows a World War II without mention of the Holocaust, Genis puts the murder of Jews at the center of this story.
In an interview with Kotaku, a video game blog, an ADL spokes person said, “The Holocaust should be off-limits for video games.” They called Genis’s game “horrific and inappropriate” and “an offensive portrayal of the Holocaust”. They described it as a “crude effort to depict Jewish resistance during this painful period which should never be trivialized”. The Simon Wiesenthal Center were also critical, asking, “What happens if this is the only thing a young person gets to know about the Holocaust or a concentration camp?”
The ADL and SWC play valuable roles in Holocaust education, but they don’t have a monopoly on Holocaust remembrance. This game may be a decade too early, distressing to survivors in its glorification of the resistance effort of the Sonderkommando. It may, however, also be 19 years too late. Other aspect of WWII have long been the topic of games and it is through games that many get to know about aspects of history. The Jews have been painted out of this history, forgotten if you will. This gives rise the Rabbi Cooper’s theoretical young person who currently knows nothing. Show we tell them Jews were killed and show them the ovens? Or should eb leave them in blissful ignorance?
Used properly, games are a great way to educate. I doubt a game based on the camps would be popular… Done properly it would be far too distressing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing? Games educating on the Holocaust (even if that is not their primary purpose) should not be automatically lumped with the neo-Nazi propaganda games the ADL and SWC usually oppose.
Maxim Genis told Heeb Magazine that the media exposure, “just killed me emotionally…I can’t eat, barely sleep, can’t work or function.” He said he put 4 years into the game, including extensive research. Then under pressure he cancelled it. Expert help to make the game truely an asset was available close by at Yad Vashem. The addition of a historical background document on the incident depicted in the game, and links to further information, would truly have made the game an asset. This episode is a loss for Holocaust education, but more significantly, it shows we have the wrong attitude and are asking the wrong questions.
Outside of the Jewish community, education on the Holocaust is poor, often limited to the fact that “many Jews and other people died”. Creating awareness in the wider population of the crematoriums, and the intentional nature of the Nazi murder machine, may be sufficient vindication for Maxim Genis’s game. To answer Rabbi Cooper’s question, if all a player learns is that there were camps and a mass murder of Jews, even that may be an improvement over total ignorance. But it doesn’t need to stop there. A link to more information means many people’s knowledge would not stop there. Given the high level of exposure to Holocaust denial online, any gains we can make are useful.
The real questions are not about games and the Holocaust. They are about historical truth, education, and remembrance. “Games”, like other forms of technology, are no more than a medium. We must use every available medium to spark discussion, educate, and stir a greater interest and understanding of the history of the Holocaust.

Dr Andre Oboler is Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia. He is a social media expert with a focus on online hate and public diplomacy.

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New Website Launched to Combat Online Anti-Semitism

Categories: CIE in the News, Features: Tags:

Source: eJewishPhilanthropy, January 24, 2011

A new website aimed at mobilizing world Jewry, governments and community organizations against the proliferation of online anti-Semitism is being launched today.

The Austrailian based Community Internet Engagement (CIE) site was developed by social media expert Andre Oboler.

According to Oboler, the CIE will be a hub for research, education, technology support and advocacy. He tells us, “Changes in technology, particularly in Internet technologies and web 2.0 (Blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc), require community organizations to invest heavily or risk becoming out of touch. Few around can afford that investment, especially given the rate of technological change.

Much of the best practice is yet to be discovered. What we know, however, is that the Internet is now a social medium. It is about sharing, it is about cooperation and it is about communities and community organizations are well placed to harness the power of the Internet to support their activities and further their objectives.”

CIE also aims to work internationally, in cooperation with other experts, to improve the knowledge of online threats to the Jewish people and contribute to the formulation and implementation of global solutions. They aim to be the first point of call for major organizations wanting to engage online, or for the Jewish press when a new internet related story breaks. Oboler continues, “We want to be people consulted each time a new initiative to support Israel and the Jewish people is launched. We want to invest in technology, training and research and strive to become global leaders in online advocacy, not only in the Jewish world but generally.”

Funding to launch the CIE initiative was provided by the Pratt Foundation, who continues to be a major supporter of the project. Oboler, who is a member of the ROI Community, has also received assistance through their network.

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New Website going up…

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The main structure of our new website is now up, but please bear with us as we tidy things up during the remainder of January.

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