Facebook and Holocaust Denial

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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Arab World’s Leaders Are Facebook Fans, Too

Source: David E. Miller, Arab World’s Leaders Are Facebook Fans, Too, The Media Line, 2 March 2011

Social networking isn’t just for the opposition, but managing rulers’ pages is tricky

“Dear Queen Rania, what’s happening with the revocation of my father’s citizenship? For god’s sake, we were all born in Jordan. Please hurry up and help us get our Jordanian citizenship.”

This personal letter sent from Ibrahem Al-Gbale, most likely a disgruntled Jordanian of Palestinian origin, to his queen, would until recently have been dealt with quietly through private appeals to the well-connect officials. But these days Rania and a few other Middle East leaders are using Facebook to reach out to the public, subjecting themselves to open criticism as much as praise in the process.

Facebook has been hailed as a tool of revolution that has spread across the Middle East, the means by which young Tunisians, Egyptians and others spread their message and organize their rallies. But when they are not banning the world’s favorite social network, the region’s rulers are learning to use it, too.

“Facebook can be a great public diplomacy tool. It becomes a way to communicate with the masses and gain popular support. This was demonstrated most sharply by [U.S. President Barack] Obama during his election campaign,” Andre Oboler, an Australian expert on social media, told The Media Line.

Two weeks ago, the Saudi royal court opened a dedicated page on the social network where citizens can forward their grievances to King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz Al-Saud with the click of a button. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last week announced he was using his two-year-old Facebook page to help him out of a deadlock in forming his new interim government.

The catch is that Facebook in a Janus-like device, a conduit for polishing the leader’s image and letting the public praise him or her, but also a place for people to direct their grievances and stage personal attacks. Rulers’ pages have to strike a balance between looking real and personal while not letting negative sentiments overwhelm them.

With Libya spinning out of control over the past week as rebels battle government troops and close in on the capital Tripoli, harsh abuse has filled the Facebook page of Saif Al-Islam Al-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader’s best-known son and – until he delivered a blood-curdling speech threatening the opposition last week – the one family member seen as the most progressive and tech-savvy.

One post claimed that the wife of the Libyan dictator and two of his children had fled to Austria and called on readers to protest across their Vienna hotel.

“Saif, your credentials as a reformer have been flushed down the drain,” one commentator wrote on the wall. “Be careful and remember what happened to Qusay and Uday Hussein,” a harsh reference to the slain sons of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected Facebook pages is that of Asma Al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Facebook had been banned in Syria until a month ago, with users forced to log in through proxy servers overseas. Internet World Stats estimates there were only 30,000 Facebook users in all of Syria, a country of 22 million people, as of August 2010.

More modest than Queen Rania’s Facebook page, it displays intimate photos of Asma dining with her husband in a cozy Paris restaurant and a jeans-wearing Bashar planting trees in the Qatana region. Even in this tightly regimented society, criticism of the regime slipped through onto Asma’s Facebook page, alongside the predictable salutations.

“We don’t deny that we love Bashar Al-Assad and don’t want any other president,” a Facebook user named Samer Faad wrote on Asma’s wall. “But we want speedy reforms and an end to corruption, especially that of Rami Makhluf [Assad's cousin] and the thieving officers who constitute two thirds of the Interior Ministry. We want the entire government to be changed as well.”

Media Line’s attempt to contact Al-Assad’s page administrator was unsuccessful, but the page seemed professionally managed, feeding viewers with high-quality personal images of the Syrian first lady and her family.

“No public figure should be engaged in on-line public relations without monitoring and editorial ability,” Oboler said. “The real secret is that during a crisis, the posts can be managed by professional staff while continuing to masquerade as a particular individual.”

Oboler noted that Facebook has a built-in bias in favor of positive feedback, because “liking” content takes one click whereas no similar facility existed for “disliking” content. With nearly 600,000 fans, Queen Rania doesn’t have to worry much about brickbats.

“Negative feedback can be left as comment, but this requires a greater amount of effort,” Oboler said. “The effort required to remove a comment is far smaller than to post one. Hence, provided they play the game right, Facebook can be manipulated and the message controlled.”

Fayyad, the Palestinian premier, has pioneered a new function for Facebook, as a way for soliciting candidates for ministerial posts as he reshuffles his cabinet. His team stepped down at his behest February 14, but Fayyad struggled to reconstitute it in the face of opposition from Hamas Islamists and Left wing factions.

“In light of the ongoing consultations aiming to form a government, which people do you consider credible, have excellent leadership and scientific skills, and can be relied on to hold a ministerial portfolio?” Fayyad asked on his page last week. Public responses immediately began to flow.

Jamal Zaqout, Fayyad’s media and civil society adviser, said his boss’ Facebook page was started privately by a Palestinian citizen because he appreciated the prime minister’s work. In an unusual arrangement, the page is still operated privately but with the full cooperation of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The page was opened some two years ago and is not the result of the so-called ‘Facebook revolution’,” Zaqout told The Media Line. “It’s one of many tools the prime minister uses to stay in touch with the people. It doesn’t replace tours on the ground and regular meetings with civil society groups.”

Zaqout praised Facebook as an effective tool of communication, but it’s not the only on-line conduit: The Prime Minister’s Office operates a digital media unit, which conveys his messages through Twitter and a personal blog.

“Five minutes after the prime minister makes a public appearance, photos of the event are disseminated online through Google and news aggregates in the United States, which reach millions of people,” Zaqout said. “We try to move with the times and maintain contact with the public.”

The Saudi royal court opened a Facebook page earlier this month, calling on citizens to voice their grievances directly by posting them on the page’s wall or sending them by fax or e-mail to the court, the numbers of which appear on the page.

Oboler said that Facebook is an effective tool only when it appears to be honest, a test he said Queen Rania’s page appears to pass. No doubt some outside comments are censored, but all Facebook users, even ordinary people, engage in that kind of censorship, he said.

Indeed, one response appearing on Queen Rania’s page is even more surprising than the original protest letter posted on it.

“The King and Queen should apologize to you, Ibrahim, for the difficulties they caused you,” a user titled “New Jordan” wrote. “The King and Queen are those who left the country to mental patients and haters who unjustly strip people of their nationality.”

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Government Crack Down on peace, goodwill and social media

Social media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have made everyone a publisher. With nothing more than a smart phone, people are able to share news, photographs and video. This new level of freedom of communication has been causing concerns for those who wish to control the media, the message and the mob. Orwell’s Big Brother is none too happy.

Today’s totalitarian state is not the fictional Oceania, but rather places we already have on the radar over concerned with democracy, human rights and human dignity.  Twitter made headlines in June last year when the US State Department asked the company to delay a scheduled down time. The delay was requested in the name of democracy to prevent interference with the organising ability of Iranians protesting against elections widely held to be corrupt.

In the lead up to those elections, Iranian authorities banned Facebook, then reinstated it after Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president of Iran, noted that, “Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate”. He said without it, people would be “forced to rely on government sources”. Perhaps the Iranian regime felt exposed by such comments?

Skip forward 15 months and Iran has a new strategy. Shown on Iranian TV (now on YouTube with subtitles) is a news bulletin explaining why Facebook and Twitter are evil. Complete with spooky music, the clip informs views that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is a Jew but doesn’t believe in God. If that didn’t convince you Facebook was evil, it goes on to say Facebook was created to source operatives for western intelligence organisations. To prove this it cuts to a silhouette of a man described as a Facebook user. Our mystery man says he has worked for Facebook for 18 months, and for spy agencies. He claims to reads information on Facebook and then sell it to these spy agencies.  He claims to be doing it for the great money involved.

Soon we have another silhouette. This one claims twitter asked him to share his conversations with them so the data might be used by intelligence agencies. The section ends with a warning that social media sites are the hidden enemy. Next we have a claim that “Facebook is an Israeli spying website“. This is supported by a mocked up front page of the Independent Newspaper. The clip ends with claims of propaganda, psychological warfare and an anti-Iranian network that includes social media and the BBC and aims to change the Iranian people’s culture and faith. This “subtle” attack aims to deter use of a medium of self expression the regime is finding impossible to control.

Iran is not alone. Recently Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world, joined the attack on social media. The trouble this time is a Facebook page seeking to create warmer relations between Israel and Indonesia. The page bills itself as a virtual embassy of Israel to Indonesia. It says it is for people who are friends of both countries, and so far there are over 56 thousand fans, most of them in Indonesia. The page expresses a wish that real embassies can soon be built and diplomatic relations established. Not if the Indonesian government gets its way.

Al Muzammil Yusuf, a member of the Indonesian parliament’s Commission on Defense, foreign affairs and information, said the Ministry of Communications and Information would take action over the page under its oversight authority for the use of technology. He also called for an investigation to find who initiated the page. It’s starting to sound just a little like the Iranian regime’s witch hunt which led to imprisonments, injuries and killings.

Indonesia is listed amongst the free nations of the world by the highly respected NGO Freedom House.  Such a move against good will, cooperation, and self expression by Indonesia would be shocking given their freedom status is the same as that of Australia or Canada. Then again, in Australia or Canada it’s unlikely the Communication and Information Minister would be causing a stir by using twitter to share Adolf Hitler quotes. That’s this week’s other Indonesian technology story.

Social media, if properly managed, poses a real threat to those working against peace, truth and good will amongst peoples. The management however needs to be based on ethical principles. Governments do have rights in this process and international laws, standards and policies should be considered. Companies like Facebook need to establish relations with governments outside the USA, learn from the experience of others, and chart a course that is good not only for their bottom line but for humanity. With social media comes social responsibility, both for users and for platform owners.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He is based in Australia and runs the Community Internet Engagement Project.

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Iran’s propaganda against Facebook and Twitter

The Iranian regime has been producing propaganda targeting social media Facebook and Twitter. These sites played a significant role in mobilizing opposition forces during the Iranian elections in June 2009. The election result was disputed and the process was fraught with government corruption. When the government chose to respond militarily, this led to riots.

Barbara Lochbihler, Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran, said a year later, “since June 2009, when hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Tehran, the Basij militia and other security forces have been harshly cracking down on all opposition forces.” She added there had been “Mock executions, torture, rape, death sentences” and that “the record points to a terrible human rights situation.”

The Iran regime is now not only targeting opposition figures, and using its intelligence agencies to target dissidents abroad, it is now trying to smear social networking itself. It does this by preposterous accusations of Israeli control, American government control and “interviews” with workers who are silhouetted to protect their privacy and then make claims that they worked for Facebook in once case and Twitter in another, and that western intelligence agencies asked them to use the social networking tools so they could gather information on their friends. It also suggests the Mossad is behind these social media platforms. The allegations are so out of touch with the nature and reality of social networking, any one with an account will see straight through them. The are however designed to spread fear, and perhaps will keep new users off the social networking sites.

The Iranian regime started by arresting bloggers, and having agents spread a message that people should not trust Twitter. Over time they have been rounding up, arresting and in some cases killing dissidents who use social media. At the same time they run Press TV, an English language propaganda service masquerading as part of the free press.

Now they are going after the concept of social media itself. They want to put the genie back in the bottle and restrict information flow so that only the official message can get out, a message which like the elections they hope they can control. They aim to do this through fear, and this propaganda video is part of that process.

["allowFullScreen":"true","allowScriptAccess":"always","src":"http://www.youtube.com/v/V9bluTcULG0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3","allowfullscreen":"true"]

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SCAM ALERT (Facebook virus): This poor girl committed suicide

Update: As of 2:33am Melbourne time, the situation is contained. Facebook have removed the problematic page. Password changes are still recommended for the 11K people effected… if you visited the page I suggest changing your Facebook password as a precaution.

The information below is now only for the record. I have removed certain information to help prevent the spread of the problematic code.


We have a new Facebook scam / virus, it’s a page titled “This poor girl committed suicide after her father posted this on her wall”

If you have this showing up on your wall removal instructions are below. Please note that this page may pose a risk that can compromise your account.

How the scam works – non technical

There is a facebook page “This poor girl committed suicide after her father posted this on her wall” on the page is a popup that says “Security Check” and asks you to confirm you are over 18. When you click confirm three things happen…

1) The page makes it so you like the page

2) The page posts itself as a link to your wall

3) The page posts itself as a link to your wall again

Your friends will now wonder why you like this page, and click on it. This is how it spread.

Additional note: If the page doesn’t trigger the above action automatically there is a message below the “security box” telling you “Sometimes, nothing happens when you press Confirm. If that is the case, press the “Message Here” tab again.”

As far as you go, we’re not done yet. You now have a new screen. It pops up with a second post, again saying “security alert”, but this time saying it is checking if you are human. It asked you to click buttons in a certain order then press submit to prove you are human.

Now you get a choice of surveys to complete, if you choose one it will take you to an external site in a new window. The Facebook window will sit there checking if you have completed the survey yet.

This is the point of the scam / virus, the person who coded this is using a survey for cash program and collecting revenue either for your work or as the referrer. (At this point we stopped caring to analyse this further).

You can remove the scam using the steps below, technical information about this scam is being written up right now and will be here within 30 minutes.

In pictures

You’ll probably need to click to enlarge these images and make them readable.

First it asks you to confirm your age.

Next it asks you to prove you are human: (Oh, and right clicking is, it says, “disabled by Facebook”)

Step 3 is where it asks you to choose a survey

Step 4, it opens a new window to show you your survey:

Mean time, the Facebook window sits there waiting for you to finish the survey:

Step 5: This is not really part of the scam, but trying to close the survey will cause some issues… the first few are popups. Don’t click any buttons on these, just press the escape key on the top left hand corner of your keyboard to get rid of them.

While these popups are distracting you, the site loads a new page:

Finally it closes!

Spread details:

Currently spreading at a rate of 1 person every six seconds. The limiting factors seems to be the server they are hosting it on… it can’t handle the load very well. This could be cause all their images are hosted on the server. They tried hosting them at image shack but the images were quickly removed (probably flagged due to bandwith skyrocketing which triggered an automatic response).

6458 8:59pm Melbourne, Australia time.

6473 9:00pm Melbourne, Australia time.Increase by 15 per minute.

6483 9:01pm Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 10 per minute.

6493 9:02pm Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 10 per minute.

6600 9:12pm Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 10.7 per minute.

7510 10:25  Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 910, 12.5 per minute.

8070 11:01  Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 560, 15.6 per minute.

9835 11:50 Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 775, 15.8 per minute.

10425 1:29 Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 590, 6.0 per minute. A significant drop in the rate of spread.

10568 1:39 Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 143, 14.3 per minute.

10817 1:52 Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 249, 19.2 per minute.

11150 2:16 Melbourne, Australia time. Increase by 333, 13.9 per minute.

0 2:33 Melbourne, Australia time. Facebook disables the page. The “likes” have therefore vanished from everyone’s walls.

Technical Information

Firmly, the popup in step 1 above is not a popup, it is simply an image. Clicking it makes a call to a Facebook application, Application ID: 4949752878 more on that below.

The application is hosted on a server leadhoster.com and this domain is registered to a private (unpublished) owner. The registration is done by a German company  AttractSoft GmbH. Their abuse e-mail address is abuse@attractsoft.com.

The application uses at least two sub-hosts on the server. The code is in PhP. The first set of code is like.php this is what adds the application to your wall, twice, and make you “like” it. Is this triggered by step 1. Once it has run it takes you to step 2, hosted on another sub-domain.

Step 2.  This, for me, was on a second sub-domain it runs the blind.php file. This file stops right clicking and gives you the second pop up, when clicked it loads <a href=”http://www.cpalead.com”>http://www.cpalead.com</a> this is a site that provides surveys which generate cash for the person who gets you to fill them out. IT is designed to help content owners generate cash from people wanting to view their site.  In this case the application is using it (for http://www.cpalead.com publisher id 114295) to get Facebook users to fill out surveys so the owner can get cash. This is the pay load from the application.

It’s not harmful, but it is illegal. It falls into the category of acquiring a financial advantage by deception. It’s also a scam that is misusing the Facebook API to spread like a virus. It will therefore be against Facebook’s terms of use. Lets see how many people it gets before Facebook shuts it down.

The major technical limiting factor on this applications seems to be that their server can’t handle a very high load.

The Facebook Application

I should note there is also an event, which lists this application in it’s name, which is running from Monday, March 7, 2011 · 3:30am – 6:30am. The event created by ?EVVAL YASEM?N YÜRÜK VE EREN BAKICI which is actually another Facebook page. This page has only 213 fans and is apparently based in ?stanbul, Turkey.

Security alter

My facebook account password seems to have changed shortly after posting this… luckily I was logged in to tweet deck at the time, and as soon as it couldn’t login to facebook alarm bells went off. I immediately reset it and verified by phone.

Removal instructions:

1) Go to the page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/This-poor-girl-committed-suicide-after-her-dad-posted-this-on-her-wall/152552574785485?v=wall&ref=mf and click “unlike” on the left hand side

2) Go to your wall and hover over the two posts about this scam, now click the remove button

3) Go to the wall of who ever posted this (where you clicked it) and tell them to follow these instructions

4) reset your facebook password and any other accounts that use the same password – just to be safe.

All done

This page was created by CIE’s director, Dr Andre Oboler. Dr Oboler is is a social media expert and holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Lancaster University, UK and in 2007-2008 was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Political Science at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He is a former Legacy Heritage Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem, and edits www.ZionismOnTheWeb.org – a website countering on-line hate. His personal site, including details of publications, is at www.Oboler.com.

CIE’s most recent social activism project was Meet Gilad, why not check it out while you are here?

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The Gaza “Freedom Flotilla”, its technology and its militants

The social media campaign against Israel is not organic. Nor is it running on a shoe string budget. One major partner in the “Freedom Flotilla Coalition”, the umbrella group behind the current problem, is the “Gaza Freedom Movement”. The Gaza Freedom movement ran a well organised campaign called the Gaza Freedom March in December 2009.

As part of the 2009 Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Movement set up 34 official Facebook groups each claiming to be their local branch in a different country. Each group has a logo based on the same theme but with their country’s name on it. Most, but not all the groups, were in the national language of that country. These groups were mostly controlled by Chris Zhora (who created most of them), Dave Kunes, Sarah Mahmoud, and Shauna Sabry.

Far from being grass roots, the campaign was highly organised with all these official groups linked to an official website. In total they had 22,481 members. Some groups worked, other simply allowed them to pretend they had a support base in an additional country. The smallest group was just 39 people 2 days before the March. Since then the Gaza Freedom Movement has become a registered charitable organization in Cyprus.

Fast forward to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. People have discussed how much free publicity they are getting via social media, particularly though their camera mounted on one of the boats. While it may be free to watch, it’s not a no cost campaign. Money has gone into providing a decent internet connection, presumably by satellite, and plenty of bandwidth for that camera. The websites did not happen accidently, there are two staff listed as being involved. They are described as staff, not volunteers, so we can assume they are paid. The boats themselves that create the stunt for spectacle are also essential, and indeed is the aid. None of this comes free.

The real spectacle, however, started with the refusing to take the boat to Ashdod under escort. Israel offered to transfer the goods on the boat to Gaza, by land from Ashdod, under the supervision of the passengers. There is a video of the offer and refusal.

Things then became heated as soldiers tried to board the boat by sliding down a rope from a helicopter. Those on the boat tried to bring the chopped down, then settled for attacking the troops as they landed. The militants (yes, that is the correct work for someone who has a “combative character” and is “aggressive, especially in the service of a cause”), anyway, the militants then used knives, bats, metal pipes, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles to attack the troops. At least one had a rifle. The soldiers were armed with paintball guns, used by Israel to disperse protestors, and handguns they were told were for their own defence and not to be used except in extreme circumstances.

Again we have video clearly showing the soldiers being physically attacked.

After one was knocked unconscious and his handgun seized the troops requested, and received, permission to shoot. They proceeded to shoot at the militants legs where possible. A number were incapacitated in this way. In all seven soldiers were wounded, four moderately (two of these were initially in a critical condition) and three more were lightly wounded. 9 of the militants were killed and other were injured. But what do you expect when you resort to armed conflict against the military? The real cost here was the lives of those militants. Lives wasted to buy airtime on television to demonize Israel. This was not a cheap campaign.

This is not a social media war, this is a real war in which some are trying, through social media, to remove Israel’s right to self defense. This is not just by denying Israel had the right to stop boats from breaking it’s blockade of Gaza (which in any case still lets in aid through the proper channels by land), but by denying young Israelis doing their national service the right the defend themselves when being bashed with bats, clubs, metal pipes and knives. The social media battle here is about truth. With the blogosphere, twitter and facebook show people Israel’s offer of safe passage for the aid to Gaza? Will they show people how the soldiers were attacked? Will they show how Israel went into the boats to redirect them, rather than taking a simpler path and just blowing them up (as some other counties might have done) or arresting them as spies as other countries have done in recent years. Will social media be a tool of truth or a tool of propaganda? We’ll wait and see.

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Possibility of policing the internet?

Published as: Andre Oboler, Possibility of policing the internet?, The Australian Jewish News, March 12 2010, p10

The Community, needs to have a debate about the feasibility of policing the internet.

Over the past few weeks, the internet, and specifically social networking site Facebook, has been taking some knocks.

Commentary has come from all levels of politics. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “we need to be deploying all practical measures” against cyber crime and internet bullying. Senator Nick Xenophon’s suggestion of an Online Ombudsman was “worth a look” according to Rudd, and Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, has noted “growing calls for broader debate on the challenges posed by new media”.

The media attention is the result of users posting illegal content, including child pornography and bestiality, on a Facebook page set up as a tribute to two murdered Queensland children. Facebook called the latest outrages “despicable”.

The Jewish Community has been expressing concern for years about the use of internet communications to attack individuals and communities.

In the last six years, with the growth of “Web 2.0” – a phenomenon that has seen the internet grow increasingly interactive – the nature of the problem has changed.

Instead of an enumerable collection of hate sites, there is now a pervading online culture of anarchy.  In this emerging online world everyone can say and do as they wish, without regard to the impacts on others or society at large.

And Facebook has been a strong promoter of this culture of freedom from responsibility.

We saw this over the last few years when the company refused to remove Holocaust denial from their platform.

It was only in 2010 that Facebook began quietly removing most, but not all, forms of Holocaust denial as matter of course.

Facebook has said the vitriol on the Children’s tribute pages was removed not only for violating the terms of use, but also for “violating the human trust” associated with the situation.

If Facebook has developed a moral compass, which balances free expression with the other legitimate needs of society, this is welcome indeed.

The real challenge in front of us is to create a safe online space by creating a positive internet culture – one where people respect others and realise that the law and society’s moral code still apply online.

The challenge for internet monoliths is to take responsibility for ensuring complaints are handled quickly.

Just recently, three Google executives were convicted by an Italian court for not acting quickly enough to protect the privacy of an autistic boy.

Any debate the community has will need to weigh up the impact and burden on the internet industry of monitoring content versus the needs, rights and expectations of society.

Other sectors have burdens – from food safety requirements to financial regulation – but, ultimately, our rights as citizens are more important than our rights as “Facebook users”.

Dr Andre Oboler is a social media expert and director of the community internet engagement project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

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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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