The Fight against online hate

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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CIE to Deconstruct the web of hate – if funding can be found

Adam Kamien, Deconstructing a web of hate, Australian Jewish News, 7 January, 2011. Pg 4.

A NEW website aimed at mobilising world Jewry, governments and community organisations against the proliferation of online anti-Semitism will be launched on January 24.

The Community Internet Engagement (CIE) site is the brainchild of social media expert Andre Oboler, who has consulted with governments and community organisations around the world.

According to Oboler, theCIE will be a hub for research, education, technology support and advocacy.

He said social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube and others, are easily manipulated by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigners and need to be properly held to account.

“The idea is to build some software whereby artificial intelligence, as well as more wide-spread engagement, would allow us to track pretty much all online anti-Semitism,” Oboler said.

The CIE got off the ground in 2008 thanks to funding from The Pratt Foundation, and has since been coopted by the Zionist Federation of Australia.

Oboler is currently rattling the tin for the CIE and told The AJN his is hoping to raise $2 million, a significant portion of which will be used to create unique software. He would not be drawn on the nature of the program though, citing “trade secret issues”.

“The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Centre have given up on doing empirical measuring of online anti-Semitism. They Reckon the Internet’s too big, too complicated,” Oboler said.

The co-editor of Australian Jewish online discussion forum Galus Australis, Rachel Sacks-Davis, also believes combating online anti-Semitism is a near insurmountable pursuit.

“I commend any efforts to encourage Jewish community organisations to engage in the online environment as this will help these organisations to communicate more effectively with the Jewish community. However, it is unlikely that it will be an effective way to combat online anti-Semitism,” she said.

“Until anti-Semitism is completely eradicated from the world, it will not be eradicated from the internet. The best strategy for the Jewish community is to create online spaces for Jewish expression, which provide opportunities for people – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to have positive interactions with Jews and Jewish culture.”

But Oboler is adamant inroads can be made. He believes the creation of an online equivalent of the Community Security Group could significantly reverse worrying trends towards anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigning on the internet.

“The result would be we would have a handle on what was happening and we would be able to start reversing some of the public opinion losses that we’re suffering,” Oboler said.

To donate to the Community Internet Engagement project contact Andre Oboler through his website www.oboler.com

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Government a welcome presence in cyber regulation

The following article by Andre Oboler was published in the Australian Jewish News on May 7 2010, page 23. It is a reprint of a piece in Jerusalem Post.

Merely allowing debate on the internet is not enough to prevent cyber-racism. Governments need to step in to regulate the proliferation of hateful messages on social media sites.

The US Congress and the Italian parliament deserve credit; last week both held hearings into combatting on-line anti-Semitism. The differing testimony, however, highlights the gap between the US and the rest of the world. As one of the experts to appear before the Italian parliament, I had the opportunity to focus on the heart of the problem and to explore the ineffectiveness of the approach advocated to Congress just days earlier.

The hearing in Rome examined both Italian-language Web sites that distributed anti-Semitic literature and imagery, and the international problem in social media. The Web 2.0 examples I presented came from Facebook, YouTube, Google Groups, MySpace and Flickr. They included conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, blood libel, demonization and other classic and modern forms of anti-Semitism – all easily found across the spectrum of social media sites.

The heart of the problem is that such material is largely accepted as legitimate expression. Why should something condemned by society were it published in print or placed on posters on city streets suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?

Social media sites are incredibly powerful. YouTube, for example, has a user base 50 times larger than the combined circulation of the top 10 newspapers in America. Can such a powerful medium really exist free of governmental control? With the power these companies wield, is no obligation owed to society?

Anti-Semitism 2.0 is the spread of the social acceptability of anti-Semitism through Web 2.0 technology. It creates an environment in which to be racist is no worse than to support the wrong soccer team. In such an environment, hate spreads, and society is conditioned to accept it. The danger is not just for the Jewish community, but reflects a wider breakdown in society’s values. If on-line society continues to develop in a moral vacuum, the lack of respect for human dignity may soon be reflected back in the “real” world.

THE US Congress focused on violence motivated by hate. In Italy we focused on the promotion of hate itself. Incitement to hate is a danger to public order, whether or not violence follows. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility – a point clearly made in the UN Charter on Civil and Political Rights. While Congress heard, once again, the tired argument of counterspeech as the best response, the Italian parliament discussed in technical detail the limits of counterspeech on platforms like Facebook.

On Facebook, having one group denying the Holocaust and another remembering the Holocaust would not be counterspeech, but rather two unrelated dialogues. To try to engage in debate in the Holocaust denial group is to promote it to all your contacts, not to mention entering a space controlled by the deniers where counterarguments can be deleted and those attempting counterspeech banished. It’s like responding to an anti-Semitic newspaper by sending it letters to the editor.

What’s worse, the curious might then view Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic propaganda, some of it direct from the Nazis, as something “contentious” and “debatable” rather than as a known and dangerous falsehood that has led to the death of millions.

There is no reason for platforms like Facebook and YouTube to facilitate the spread of hate. There is no reason on-line communities should be free of social values and human rights. The challenge is to create a civil society on-line. Such a society is not made through groups promoting NGOs, but through the adoption of ethical behavior by platform providers, on-line community leaders and the public.

Counterspeech certainly has its place, but it cannot be relied upon as a silver bullet. The correct place for counterspeech is with friends, where hate can be exposed and explained while we wait for the platform to remove it.

THE FIGHT for civil rights has been a long one. We should not have to start from scratch simply because of a change in technology and the emergence of social media companies with more reach than any newspaper. At minimum, companies that allow anyone to publish should allow anyone to complain. At minimum, such complaints should be reviewed in a reasonable time, and if they are dismissed as groundless those who file them should be given the option of recourse through the courts if the content is illegal.

In Europe, and indeed almost everywhere beside the US, hate speech against minorities is already illegal. If companies get it wrong, if they insist on harboring hate either by rejecting valid complaints or through excessively slow response rates, it should be governments who hold them to account.

We have tackled copyright as a result of the music industry; we have tackled privacy largely as a result of government officials in Canada and Italy; next we must tackle the promotion of racism and hate. It is up to governments and intergovernmental organizations to make this a priority for social media companies. Yes, there will be costs, but it is no more than the cost of doing business in what remains a very lucrative market.

Andre Oboler is director of the Community Internet Engagement PRoject at the Zionist Federation of Australia, and co-chair of the working group on online anti-Semitism for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

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Taking a Stand Against Web Hate

The following article by Peter Kohn was published in the Australian Jewish News on 30 April 2010, page 3.

Quelling racism and anti-Semitism in the trash-and-treasure environment of the world wide web is looming as a great social challenge. That was clear at a landmark Australian summit on cyber-racism this week.

A balanced strategy might be the antidote, Attorney-General Robery McClelland told the internet racism conference, co-sponsored by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Internet Industry Association, in Sydney on Tuesday.

Addressing delegates from around Australia and New Zealand, McClelland quoted AHRC figures on cyber-race hatred, which show concerns about racist behaviour on the internet in 2008-09 made up 18 per cent of all reported complaints about race hatred – twice the ratio of 2007-08.

But he was careful to strike a balance between regulation and freedom of speech, perhaps with an eye on the fallout from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s controversial proposal for an Australian internet filter against child pornography.

Conroy’s proposed cyber-shark net has drawn criticism from the United States government and civil liberty groups around the globe and in Australia.

Stating that he has asked the AHRC to undertake further work to tackle racism on the internet, McClelland told the summit that “the fundamental principle of freedom of expression is important in Australia. On the other hand, it is also important to ensure that all Australians are protected from vilification, bullying and harassment.”

Speaking to The AJN this week, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ)’s Peter Wertheim said battling internet racism and anti-Semitism involves two broad challenges.

“You can control the behaviour of internet service providers [ISPs] in a particular country, but what if the ISP is located overseas? Rather like the environment, it is a problem that can’t just be dealt with by one nation state,” the ECAJ executive director said.

The other hurdle is “a culture that has developed in association with the internet that holds free speech as sacrosanct, regardless of the consequence”.

Commenting on Conry’s filter proposal, Wertheim said: “In some ways, the racism that appears on the internet is, in its own way, as bad as child pornography and the case against it is just as powerful.”

He said that legal action against vilifiers requires an individual or group to initiate proceedings and is limited by the resources available to the complaint.

The ECAJ met with McClelland in August last year and with Conroy in September, and again last month, to discuss the impact of cyber-racism on the Jewish community, proposing action by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the courts.

The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA)’s cyber-warrior, Dr Andre Oboler, said he is encouraged that the conference took place, but it faces “daunting challenges”.

Dr Oboler, the ZFA’s director of community internet engagement, said two schools of thought have emerged – the Australian, Canadian and European approach that seeks some regulation, and the laissez faire American stance that is backed by internet media companies.

“The recommendations from the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Seimitism that took place in Jerusalem last year would be a very good starting point as they highlight recommendations for different groups, including industry,” he said.

B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) research director Deborah Stone said the puzzle is “how we go about controlling what is a new technology and is causing new social phenomena”.

Due to a lack of regulations, coupled with a creaking court system unable to keep up with the lightining pace of cyber-bigots, “there is material on the internet that would not have got into any other form of media since [Nazi German newspaper] Der Stuermer”, she said.

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ZFA’s innovative internet initiative

To help the community become more involved with the online world, the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) has this month launched the unique Community Internet Engagement (CIE) Project. Headed by online expert, Dr Andre Oboler, regarded for his research into online anti-Semitism and Internet issues affecting Israel, the project aims to build on the established community infrastructure and get Jews online collectively.

“Jews have always been big on communication. We are a literate peoplewho valued books long before many other cultures. Today we need to take that online,” Dr Oboler told the AJN.

With the assistance of two part time employees, Dr Oboler plans to ensure that all community organisations have a functioning website, in addition to having skills to discover, communication and share information.

“The CIE project is about connecting organisations with their members, and with each other. It is about removing barriers and bringing us closer together and closer to Israel,” Dr Oboler said. “We will work in partnership with the existing organisations, giving new skills to the community leaders and those that work for the community. We will be leaders in research into online issues that affect the community… fromt he positives of sharing simchas, to the problems that threaten and challenge us, we’ll be there working hand in hand with the community.”

The CIE will provide basic services – such as the building of small websites, occasionla updates, training, advice and public discussions – to the community free of charge. Dr Oboler said his team also aims to get the community blogging.

While based at the ZFA, the initative also involves the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

Enquiries: www.internetengagement.com.au

NOTES:

Published as Dalia Sable, ZFA’s innovative internet initiative, The Australian Jewish News, 18 December 2009, p 11

CIE works with Australian Jewish community organisations that fall under the umbrella of the ZFA, the ECAJ and under affiliated umbrella bodies of either organisation.

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