Facebook’s Race and Online Hate

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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Commandment 614: Learning about the Holocaust may not be fun

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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JPPI report on Global Antisemitism Cites CIE’s Director

A new JPPI report (October 12, 2010) provides a survey of prominent research on the phenomena of antisemitism around the world. In it’s discussion on online antisemitism the report refers to three articles by Dr Andre Oboler:

The report notes that “Few organizations are targeting and combating the online anti-Semitism”. It makes no mention of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum, nor did it note the creation of the Community Internet Engagement Project as the first mainstream group focused exclusively on Internet Antisemitism. The report was released just before the ICCA meeting which added further commitment to tackle online antisemitism.

One significant disagreement I have with the report is the suggestion, based on information from the ADL, that “anti-Semitism in cyberspace is virtually impossible to quantify, both because of the high dynamic of the medium, and because the information on the net is infinite, and it is almost impossible to reach it all”. This is clearly untrue as the implication is that search engines are also impossible. The premise would also suggest the entertainment industry should give up on efforts to prevent online piracy. As a technical premise, the argument is deeply flawed. Both the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have been using this argument as smoke screen to put the problem of monitoring of online hate into the “too hard” basket.

The problem is not too hard, it just requires a new approach and a more specialized expertise. This is exactly the problem CIE was created to solve, and we are working on it. Unfortunately we don’t have even a fraction of the budget of organisations like the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center. Without sufficient resources progress is slower than it needs to be. In 2007 I asked Issac Hertzog (then the Minister responsible for combating antisemitism)  who was going to pay for the work that needs to be done online. Despite raising that question in the Jerusalem post in 2008, with the exception of a very small pool of donors, we are still waiting for an answer. More than hand wringing, right now what’s needed is funding.

- Andre Oboler

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CIE’s Director explains why YouTube got it wrong when they pulled PMW’s channel

In this Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, CIE’s Director, Dr Andre Oboler, explains the deeper concerns that are raised by YouTube’s actions in pulling Palestinian Media Watch’s channel. The action shows a flawed policy that is dangerous to both the fight against online hate and to YouTube’s position in the market.

YouTube gets it wrong on online hate

ANDRE OBOLER, YouTube gets it wrong on online hate, Jerusalem Post, 19/12/2010

The closing of Palestinian Media Watch channel is one example of how the website’s policies are inconsistent and only selectively enforced.

Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court once said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

This is often used to justify “more speech” as the only solution to “hate speech.”

In November, as parliamentarians and experts from over 40 countries gathered in Canada for the second meeting of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism, there was a growing concern at rising anti-Semitism, and an increased acceptance that more than sunlight was needed in response.

At the gathering, I presented as part of an experts panel on hate speech online. One point I raised was the problem of YouTube videos that do not by themselves constitute hate, but which attract hateful comments.

An example I gave was a YouTube clip of Sacha Baron Cohen’s song “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”

The most popular comment on the video the morning I presented, as voted by YouTube viewers, read: “Lets [sic] genocide them by burning them! But this time, lets [sic] actually do it.”

Should Sacha Baron Cohen or YouTube take this clip down if this is what it inspires? Should the comments be closed to viewers? The answer is unclear, but allowing this to continue is not a good thing and seeing how popular it is leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

THERE IS also a clear problem with hate groups, such as “theytnazism” on YouTube.

I reported this to YouTube in February, and on November 22 – 10 months later – it was still active. The group includes a “list of people we hate and we want to kill.” It was a short list of “1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians.”

I then included it in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organisation in France earlier this month and suddenly the group was gone. I doubt that was a coincidence, especially as the rest of my collection of similar groups (reported at the same time) are still active. One of these, with giant swastikas in the background, declares it is God’s will to murder all non-Aryans.

The problem is not that YouTube never steps in. The problem is they are liable to step in only when there is public exposure of content they wrongly ignored, or when political pressure is applied.

YouTube also seems to have started giving in to pressure to remove videos and channels that expose and educate against hate.

A few months ago, for example, efforts were made to shut down the YouTube presence of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The institute provides the English-speaking world with insight into the Mideast media. Some of the exposure is not welcome by those who say one thing in English to a Western audience and another thing at home.

The MEMRI debacle seems to have been resolved, but YouTube is now going after Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) which fulfills a similar role, focused exclusively on the Palestinian media.

PMW monitors, translates and shares examples of incitement. It was PMW that exposed the use of a Mickey Mouse character inciting hate and violence on the Hamas TV children’s show “The Pioneers of Tomorrow.”

That story created shock waves around the world, leading to discussions in the Western mainstream media and at the UN of the link between incitement in the media and terrorism.

PMW’s violation appears to be that it was posting “hate material.”

There is no doubt that it was. However, like MEMRI, that material was not shared for the purpose of incitement, but to expose and counter the spread of hate. Some commentators have speculated that it is not the hate against Jews, Israelis and Americans – as shown in MEMRI and PMW videos – that is the problem, but rather the fact that the videos might cause a backlash against those promoting such hate.

Any argument that uses free speech to prevent the exposure of hate speech is inherently deeply flawed.

YouTube needs to get its act together.

What it has created is a haven for hate, devoid of sunlight. Its policy seems inconsistent, ineffective and only selectively enforced. It is working against community expectations and the public interest. Ignoring illegal content, while removing the very sunlight needed to expose those spreading hate, creates a volatile environment.

Social media is built on concepts of security and trust. When these start to go, opportunities for competitors are created. It may be too early to call this the beginning of the end for YouTube, but unless it gets its policies right, and properly enforces them, we may well see this megalith begin to slide downhill.

The writer is an expert in social media and online hate. He is director of the Community Internet Engagement Project and Co-Chair of the Online Anti-Semitism working group for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

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Gaming the YouTube system to protect antisemites

The following op-ed was written for Honest Reporting and provides an update and further details on the story of Palestinian Media Watch being banned by YouTube, as discussed in Jerusalem Post by CIE’s Director Dr Andre Oboler. It seems the YouTube reporting system is being played with by anti-Jewish activists, and the company is helpless to stop it. The post below originally appeared on Honest Reporting’s BackSpin Blog.

Palestinian Media Watch Still Gamed By YouTube

Dr Andre Oboler (http://www.oboler.com) is the Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia. He is global expert in social media and internet based antisemitism. HonestReporting asked him to bring our readers up to speed on the developing YouTube / PMW revelations.

On Sunday, YouTube acted to close a channel on their service run by Palestinian Media Watch. The explanation YouTube gave related to a video from 2006, originally taken from Hamas’s website, which shows a suicide terrorist says his goodbyes and boasting he will soon drink the blood of Jews.

“We won’t leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children’s thirst with your blood.” He says. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSftYIGH6-w)

After this video has been on the YouTube at this address since July, suddenly this exposure of terrorism and hate was a “violation of terms” and was promoting hate speech rather than exposing it. Instead of removing the video, as they had done before (without allowing an avenue for appeal or discussion), YouTube removed the entire channel. This seems to be based on a policy of banning accounts after 5 strikes against the Terms of Use. The mistakes, on YouTube’s part, build up until the account is disabled.

A day later, after coverage by myself in Jerusalem Post, and by Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, as well as an increasing volume of outrage on blogs and via Twitter, the PMW channel was reinstated, but the viewing counts seem conspicuously low.

The most viewed video was only up to 13,363 views. This was particularly odd when there are Palestinian Media Watch videos like “Gaza flotilla participants invoked killing of Jews” with over 200,000 views. It seems searching for “by palwatch” (no quotes) gives far better results than viewing the channel. In short the channel is now broken as a result of YouTube’s intervention.

The good news is that of the six complaints again Palestinian Media Watch, four of them have now been reversed. You can now, once again, see “Hamas suicide terrorist farewell video: Palestinians drink the blood of Jews,” “PA cleric: Kill Jews, Allah will make Muslims masters over Jews,” and “Hamas suicide farewell video: Jews monkeys and pigs; Maidens reward for killing Jews.”

Three videos remain blocked. “Farewell video before suicide attack of Hamas suicide bomber Adham Ahmad Hujyla Abu Jandal” (formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYdTudQhWM4), “Hamas TV teaches kids to kill Jews” formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwN2M6ZIIRU), and “Jews are a virus like Aids” (formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYaGl3KjPUw).

YouTube still needs to fix the indexing problem, and review their earlier mistakes. It seems only the most recent complaints have been reviewed and found to be invalid. The good news is that it seems this is a systematic flaw in Google’s system, not something they intended to do. But the problem is occurring with other pro-Israel accounts.

It seems someone, or some group of new media anti-Israel activists, are gaming the system. They are taking advantage of YouTube’s automated and semi-automated systems to push their agenda slowly through the system. First one complaint, then a second… until eventually the goal is achieved and the channel itself is shut down. Until YouTube can improve the system, and recognise when people are trying to “trick” the system into doing what they want, rather than what it is intended to do, we all have a serious problem. This isn’t helped when YouTube’s manual override is broken and leaves those who have been targeted in a worse position then they were to start with.

For now, YouTube need to find the accounts that are causing these problems and deactivate them. This problem is far greater than Palestinian Media Watch, though the damage done to them must be fixed, and an apology wouldn’t hurt either.

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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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New media needs a new approach to antisemitism

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, New media needs a new approach to anti-Semitism, Jerusalem Post, 27 April, 2010

Why should something condemned by society, were it published in print, suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?

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.

The writer is director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, and cochairman of the working group on on-line anti-Semitism for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

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