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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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Under attack in a virtual world

Andre Oboler, PresenTense Magazine, February 2010.

The Jewish people are losing the war. When it comes to the online world, we are for the most part disorganized, under-resourced and lacking leadership. Battles may be determined by short-term objectives, but wars are won by strategy and determination. In the Jewish world today, few have realized that we are in an online virtual war. This is a war against the Jewish state, and against the Jewish people.

The virtual world is a battleground of competing ideas. In a world with no absolute truth or commonly accepted values, racism and intolerance are becoming widely accepted in society. Discrimination, rather than freedom from discrimination, becomes a right. As these poisonous ideas spill over from the virtual world into the real world, there is a potential reversal of all the progress that has been made in the name of civil rights.

Online, as in the real world, there is an extreme fringe. These are the classic antisemites and racists, often sporting swastikas and calling for death to the Jews. In the real world, such
racism is opposed and attracts social penalties. In the virtual world, however, such expressions of hate usually pass without comment. Modern online values can even legitimize such views, giving them equal weight to any other “opinion”. Online anonymity further exacerbates the problem. The largest challenge we face is not the racists; it is the online culture that accepts them and their message. This acceptance allows others, particularly the young, to be drawn to prejudice through their ignorance. It encourages good people to stand idly by, or risk the ire of the community for attempting to limit another’s “free expression”.

In May 2007, Facebook added a code of conduct to support its terms of service. The code stated, “While we believe users should be able to express themselves and their point of view, certain kinds of speech simply do not belong in a community like Facebook.”

The code of conduct did not seek to define what was illegal; instead, it sought to define shared values for the Facebook community. The code sought to exclude “graphic or gratuitous violence,” “threats of any kind,” material that “intimidates, harasses, or bullies anyone” and “derogatory, demeaning, malicious, defamatory, abusive, offensive or hateful” material. The code of conduct lasted almost two years before it was quietly dropped.

Commenting on Holocaust denial on Facebook after the code of conduct was removed, Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt said, “The bottom line is that, of course, we abhor Nazi ideals and find Holocaust denial repulsive and ignorant. However, we believe people have a right to discuss these ideas and we want Facebook to be a place where ideas – even controversial ideas – can be discussed.”

When hate-inspired conspiracy is considered as legitimate as historical fact, we have entered a dangerous post-modern stage of society. When those wishing to excuse or deny the Holocaust are said to have nothing worse than a controversial idea, it’s time to step back and wonder how far online society has regressed.

Since the beginning of 2010, Facebook, responding to a public outcry, has started to remove the classic Nazi and Holocaust-denial groups such as “For the followers of Hitler” and “6,000,000 for the TRUTH about the Holocaust.” This change has happened without an announcement, press release or change in written policy.While this is a step in the right direction, a significant amount of hateful content continues to proliferate on Facebook. Without a doubt, antisemitism abounds. More than 100 “Gaza Holocaust” groups, both large and small, still exist. Many of the groups label Israelis as Nazis and demonize Jews. Messages that attack Israel as a Nazi, apartheid, evil state pervade both Facebook and the Internet in general. Moreover, derogatory comments about the disabled, gays and various non-whites are increasingly common on other social-media sites, such as YouTube, Flickr and Blogger. This is not just a Jewish issue.

In the war of ideas, we must look for something to spark a change in online social values. Public leadership on social values is needed. We must hope such leadership eventually will emerge from the corporate world, from the likes of Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. If it does not, that role falls to governments and the general public. Change is starting to happen. “David Appletree,” working under a pseudonym due to concern for his safety, founded the Jewish Internet Defense Force in 2008. The organization’s campaigns have led to the removal of hundreds of antisemitic groups on Facebook, as well as hundreds of racist YouTube videos.

“The problem is overwhelming,” Appletree said. “More people need to get involved to fight anti-Semitism online. Only then can we, together, start to get on top of this problem.”

Recently though, Appletree’s own Facebook account was disabled by the social-media site because he does not use his real name. But more than 50 accounts purporting to belong to Santa Claus have not been given the same treatment.

Last December, the Zionist Federation of Australia launched the Community Internet Engagement Project to provide research, training and support to the Australian Jewish community to respond to online hate. That same month, the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism met in Jerusalem, where experts and government representatives from around the world discussed antisemitism, including online antisemitism. The forum produced 17 pages of recommendations to combat online antisemitism.

In an Internet culture where hate of Jews and Israel is seen as just another equally legitimate viewpoint, the Jewish people are set for disaster. Historically, we have been persecuted not just because we had persecutors, but because those who could have stopped it stood idly by. The online world is creating a culture where people will – once again – stand idly by.

As Jews we must stand up and challenge those who use technology to promote racism and hate. We must use the tools provided by sites such as Facebook and YouTube to report the hate we see online. In the wider name of humanity, we must ask others to join us, to turn their backs on those who hate and to exclude them from our online communities. We must create a culture where people refuse to  participate in communities that lack basic social values. This starts when we take a stand ourselves, as individuals, against the hate, racism, and bullying we see online. We must work for an online world that remembers the lessons of the past and incorporates the strides made for human rights over the last 60 years.

The clash of cultures that is taking place around the globe is reflected online, but so is the rejection of Western values. We are once again in a brave new world, a world of rapid change where anything can happen. In this new world the Jewish people are once again the canary in the coal mine. The online war over the values of society is a war that we must win – and not only for the sake of the Jewish people. This is a war over universal values. It is a war that civil society can’t afford to lose.

Dr. Andre Oboler is a social-media expert and commentator. He is the director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of the Australia, co-chair of the working group into online antisemitism for the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, and CEO of Zionism On The Web. Dr. Oboler’s research into technology issues affecting Israel and the Jewish people has covered antisemitism 2.0, Replacement geography in Google Earth, Facebook hate and the JIDF, Wikipedia warfare, Facebook’s stance on Holocaust denial and other issues.

© 2010 Andre Oboler, originally published by PresenTense Magazine in The Digital Issue, February 2010. This article is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. You may report it else where provided you post it in full and include this notice.

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