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


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


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The Fight against online hate

The Australian Jewish News (Sydney Edition) reports on the completion of the first stage of CIE’s new project to combat online hate. The first stage, funded by B’nei B’rith Australia and New Zealand, involved the design of a solution for emprically monitoring online hate, particularly in social media. The solution was presented at an experts meeting of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism which took place in Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in early July 2011. Following this meeting it was presented at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne. A report containing detailed information on the project was also created.

Source: Chantal Abitbol, The Fight against online hate, Australian Jewish News, 22 July 2011

Plans for Australian-designed software, which seeks to identify and disect online antisemitism, have been unveiled.

The system called Fight Against Hate is the brainchild of social media expert Andre Oboler, and forms one component of the Community Internet Engagement (CIE) project launched in Melbourne in January.

According to Oboler, its aim is to produce empirical data about the colume of online hate, focusing specifically on social-media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Its features include allowing the public to report content to a third party, separating data from questionable content, and producing trend reports on processed data. Over the past few weeks, Oboler has criss-crossed the globe to present the first-stage design of the softwarer — first at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in Israel and last weekend at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne.

“The response has been very positive,” Oboler told The AJN this week.

“The consensus is that this is something new and very much needed. And from the experts dealing with online hate, the view is that this is a tool that would allow them to do [much] deeper analysis, which they can’t really do at the moment. So far all we have is samples, not empirical data.

“The aim is to try and clean up social media,” Oboler said. “If we do that, we can start changing social values so that hate is again seen as not acceptable in society.”

Now all that is needed is the fundign to build it.

Oboler is trying to raise $230,000 to get it off the ground, with another $200,000 a year to cover operating costs. This is in addition to the CIE core operating budget.

“As soon as we have the funding we can start,” he said.

“What we hope is that the major donors in the Australian Jewish community are willing to step forward collectively so this solution can remain a primarily Australian initiative, covering not only antisemitism, but online hate in general. As a multicultural and innovative society, we believe it fitting that Australia is seen to take the lead in this arena.”

CIE NOTE: The CIE project has actually been operating since September 2009, not January (as indicated in this article), and its core funding is generously provided by the Pratt Foundation. The B’nei B’rith contribution provided additional capital to employ the additional staff needed for Fight Against Hate project.

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Jerusalem Report features CIE’s work combating online antisemitism

Lawrence Rifkin, The (Sometimes) Antisocial Network, Jerusalem Report, May 9 2011

Israel and Jewish organizations are scrambling to exploit the good side of Internet 2.0, but also to minimize its potential for spreading anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments.

NOT LONG AGO, IF THE conversation veered toward anti-Semitism on the Internet, it would focus on what seemed like an endless number of dedicated hate sites. These sites were so ubiquitous that Google, which relies on complex computer codes called algorithms to find entries that are relevant to what’s typed in its search window, would trumpet the hate site Jew Watch at the very top of its results for the word “Jew.”

The barrage of complaints that rolled in apparently made Google rethink at least some of its algorithms – so that typing the word “Jew” now brings in, high on the list of results, the following disclaimer: “If you recently used Google to search for the word “Jew,” you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.

…Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.

A search for ‘Jew’ brings up one such unexpected result.”

While there is far more than just one “unexpected result” (dedicated hate sites have probably multiplied since the Google/Jew uproar was first heard), some of the hatred has been migrating to a still evolving phenomenon called Internet 2.0. A sobriquet conjured up to imply a completely new Internet – which, in a way, it is – Internet 2.0 is unlike traditional websites designed for passive use. Internet 2.0 is built around what’s called “interoperability.”

This is hi-tech-speak for user interaction, and its denizens include social networking sites like the immensely popular Facebook and video-sharing sites such as Google’s YouTube, where, according to publicists, the servers upload 35 hours worth of footage from users every minute.

INTERNET 2.0 BRINGS PEOPLE together and further democratizes an already democratic medium. It allows anyone with a computer browser and modem – and no web publishing knowledge at all – to post text, photos, audio recordings and videos on the World Wide Web, usually for free.

That’s clearly a significant upside, and to revert to an old catchphrase, it can be very good for the Jews.

On Facebook alone, one can find any number of pages devoted to things Jewish and Israeli, ranging from organizations such as Chabad, USY and Peace Now to ad hoc groups calling themselves “I Stand with Israel Today” and “I’m Not Yelling… I’m Jewish… That’s How We Talk.” And as for YouTube, who among us in the lead-up to Passover did not receive at least one e-card or e-mail linked to an impressive holiday video presentation or a hilarious rendition of an old classic somehow reworked into a modern-day iteration of Moses and the 10 plagues? Israeli officials responsible for hasbara – a Hebrew term that refers to explaining Israel’s official policies and points of view – have zeroed in on Internet 2.0. The army has its own YouTube “channel” (www.youtube.com/ user/idfnadesk) with how-to videos for soonto- be inductees – along with spy drone footage of rocket-launching crews at work in Gaza.

And Benjamin Netanyahu got in on the act in late March when he was interviewed in a live television broadcast that, because it simultaneously appeared on YouTube, allowed questions to be put verbally to the prime minister in real time from around the world.

The official Internet 2.0 face of Israel is the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Internet Department.

“Over two years ago, we noticed that more and more people are getting their information from social media and not just from websites,” department head Chaim Shacham tells The Jerusalem Report. “We don’t really have a strong sense of where the best hasbara should be, so we decided to go where most of the people are.”

The department has its own Facebook page (www.facebook.com/israelmfa), You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/israel) and Twitter account (www.twitter.com/israel), and uses them for what might be termed “proactive hasbara.”

“We view our business as branding Israel, not defending it,” Shacham says. “More and more people can identify with Israel if they can identify with the content. People using the new media usually want a burst of information and then to be drawn in. We use Internet 2.0 as a net, and then try to guide them to Internet 1.0 for a reservoir of content.”

On Facebook, the netting process begins when a client looks up a friend. The friend’s page reflects things he or she does and likes. If the friend has seen the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page and recommends it to others, the friend will note this with the nowomnipresent “Like.” And because so much of Facebook relies on links – perhaps the World Wide Web’s most unique tool – if the friend hasn’t posted a “Like” for the ministry’s page, there’s a chance the client will link to the page of a mutual friend who has.

Once you reach the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page you’ll see Shacham’s “burst of information,” links that take you to his “Internet 1.0,” the ministry’s dedicated website (www.mfa/gov.il). That site is jam-packed with just about everything you might want to know about Israel – or, to be more blunt, just about everything Israel would want you to know. It is, after all, about branding.

“Yes, we want people to know about issues,” he tells The Report. “But we want them to learn about them while learning about Israel with its rich history, about the innovative Israel with hi-tech success and business opportunities, and about the Israel experience, with its tourism, arts and multiculturalism.”

Of course, as with any website, the address of one’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitter page is important: the simpler and more direct, the easier it is to remember. The Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Twitter pages once had the “MFA” suffix that its Facebook page still has, but just plain “Israel” has been the goal.

“YouTube was withholding the name and we had to go through a lengthy process to prove we were the official representative of the Israeli government,” Shacham explains. “With Twitter it was a little different. It turns out that a pornographer in Florida whose first name is Israel owned the name. We ended up paying him $5,000 for the rights.”

SO MUCH FOR THE UP – or lighter – side of Internet 2.0. Its biggest downside, on the other hand, is the ease of accessibility for purveyors of hatred and hostility. And with regard to Israel, these are not limited just to anti-Semites or Israel-bashers.

They prominently included Jews and Israelis who vent their wrath on Arabs and on each other.

The recent brouhaha over a Facebook advocacy page in Arabic titled The Third Intifada serves as an illustration. On the surface, The Third Intifada exhorted followers from the West Bank and other Arab countries to stage something of a “million-man march” right up to the border with Israel on May 15, the Gregorian date of Israel’s independence and a day the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or the catastrophe. However, according to critics, the page had an undertone that could be construed as incitement to hatred and even violence against both Israelis and Jews, while user comments often were much less subtle.

Jewish watchdog groups, such as the Anti- Defamation League, appealed to Facebook, which in late March, after a bit of foot dragging, removed the page. Nonetheless, it has since reappeared in several forms, in turn spawning Facebook pages such as “Against the Third Palestinian Intifada” and “Crush the Third Intifada Page.”

“New ways of using the web, such as social networking sites like Facebook and user-generated content sites such as YouTube, have led to an explosion of online bullying,” says Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director for civil rights. “Social networking sites are also used to promulgate hate and extremist content, increasing the depth and breadth of hate material that is available and which confronts nonextremist users,” she tells The Report.

Lauter says her organization works directly with “service providers such as Facebook” to confront the problem.

“Our discussions are fruitful and ongoing,” she says. “It is critical to note that the amount of material – Facebook has hundreds of millions of pages, YouTube has hours of videos uploaded every second, and Twitter has 140 million tweets per day – makes it virtually impossible for pre-posting policing of material.”

Replying to a Jerusalem Report query on the Intifada page matter, Facebook spokesman Simon Axten e-mailed the following – apparently boilerplate – response: “[W]e don’t typically take down content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.

However, we monitor Pages that are reported to us, and when they degrade to direct calls for violence or expressions of hate, we have and will continue to remove them.”

The spokesman referred to the specific issue as follows: “The Third Palestinian Intifada Page, while using a term that has been associated with violence in the past [referring to the term Intifada - ed], began as a call for peaceful protest. In addition, the administrators initially removed comments that promoted violence. However, once the Page gathered publicity, comments deteriorated to direct calls for violence, and eventually, the Page administrators themselves also participated in these calls. After sending several warnings to the administrators about posts that violated our policies, we removed the Page.”

ENTER ANDRE OBOLER, A SOCIAL media expert who directs the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia and co-chairs the working group on online anti-Semitism for the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. Oboler holds a PhD in computer science and in 2007-2008 was a post-doctoral fellow in political science at Israel’s Bar- Ilan University.

Taking his cue from the moniker given the new interactive Internet when it began gathering speed several years ago, Oboler coined the term “anti-Semitism 2.0.”

“The difference from classic anti-Semitism,” he tells The Report, “is that it tries to put on a socially acceptable face. Success here lowers social resistance to bigotry.”

By way of example, Oboler says he is bothered less by Stormfront, an openly anti- Semitic website run by white supremacists, than he is with the ostensibly benign Facebook, which can give similar material a veneer of respectability.

“I’m not so concerned about the spread of hate among people who hate us already,” he says. “I’m far more concerned about the spread of hate material to our friends and to those we’d want to be our friends in the future.”

Beyond the veneer, he says, the issue is also in the presentation.

“Anti-Semitism 2.0 mixes 50 percent racism and 50 percent claims of why it’s not racism. It compares Israel to Nazis, but goes on to say ‘we’re not racists,’ and then offers what it calls citations, but which are not really citations,” Oboler explains.

He claims that this modus operandi is particularly striking on Wikipedia. “You see a lot of things that are referenced to faulty, misused and fictitious citations. It is an attempt to portray hatred as an academic argument, all wrapped up in a legitimate website rather than an overtly hateful site.”

An overtly hateful website, he goes on, is much easier to have removed or filtered by search engines. “But you’re not going to pull down Facebook because of the anti-Semitism it contains. So the question is, what sort of ethical stand are Facebook and YouTube, for example, going to take on enforcement against hate messages?” Facebook’s Axten offers a short and, again, stock explanation of policy.

“Facebook is highly self-regulating,” his statement reads. “We provide report links on nearly every page and encourage people to let us know when they see something they think might violate our standards. Our team of investigators reviews and takes action on reported content according to our policies.”

Paul Solomon, spokesman for YouTube in Israel, is equally succinct. “Essentially, the community is the first line of defense. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that they do violate the Guidelines, we remove them.”

Yet he provides a bit of depth by explaining just how the company’s review system works: “There are three components,” Solomon wrote in response to a request from The Report.

“1) The community flags the video. Despite the rumor that flagging campaigns will remove a video, a single flag is sufficient to trigger this system. 2) Our algorithms prioritize the video in the queue. The algorithms examine things like flesh tones (for sexual content), the history of previous flags (i.e., has it been flagged and approved before?), and a few other demographic factors. 3) Our reviewers perform a manual review using our review tool.”

In reconsidering a video, YouTube looks at both content and intent.

“Consider, for example, the video of the death of [post-election demonstrator] Neda Soltan in Iran,” Solomon continues. “We have policies that prohibit shocking or graphic content.

On the face of it, a video showing a young woman bleeding to death would likely be removed if it were flagged. But we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) value, provided that it is balanced with the additional context.”

More recently, the Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which, according to its website, looks for mass incitement and demonization against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, had a run-in with YouTube, where it maintained its own channel. Apparently, an organized flagging campaign was mounted against PMW, and YouTube, most likely having taken only a superficial look without considering the context, eventually removed enough PMW videos to justify shutting down the entire channel – which, after a short appeal process, was reopened.

The same happened to a photo presentation uploaded by Jewish settlers after the government, in a highly controversial move, released graphic and gruesome photos of the bodies of five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby, who were butchered in their West Bank settlement in March. The move, Israeli officials openly said, was intended to show the true brutality of Arab terrorism, but YouTube looked at the content and said no – although it later relented.

Facebook and YouTube seem to have divergent approaches, Oboler tells The Report.

“With YouTube it’s ‘If in doubt, remove.’With Facebook it’s, ‘If in doubt, don’t remove.’” In a report published earlier this year, Oboler illustrates that flags and even written complaints might not always be enough, even with YouTube, where a group calling itself “theytnazism” presented a “list of people we hate and we want to kill… 1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians.”

“I reported this to YouTube in February [2010],” Oboler writes, “and on November 22 – 10 months later – [the group’s YouTube page] was still active…. I then included [a screenshot of the page] in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organization in France… and suddenly the group was gone.”

He believes this was not coincidental, as other groups he had complained to YouTube about, but never mentioned publicly, remained online.

“It’s all good and well to tell the public to report things,” Oboler tells The Report.

“Having people flag things is far more effective than any algorithms. But what happens afterward? The problem is how you decide when you’ve crossed the bridge. The driving force that pushes these companies to do anything is public pressure. It becomes a threat in a corporate sense.”

In a forthcoming report titled “A legal model for government intervention to combat online hate,” Oboler, as part of his work with the Zionist Federation of Australia, calls on that country to broaden existing anti-hate laws to more effectively combat the growing phenomenon on the Internet.

“Governments have a responsibility to take an active role in the online world; if they don’t they cannot meet their wider obligations to the people they serve,” he writes. “The powers, rights and limitations that apply to governments and private citizens in the real world need to be reflected online.”

He also aims his words at “[t]hose advising clients in the technology sector,” warning them that they “should be aware of the potential for increased government intervention.”

Oboler tells The Report that “the use of new media technology can bring governments and communities together. It’s just a channel that can be used for good and for ill, and we have to maximize its use for good.”

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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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A Salute to Standouts Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

Jennifer Hanin, A Salute to Standouts Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism, Jennifer’s Blog, 14th of January 2010

Many of us lead shel­tered lives. We go to work, spend time with fam­ily, visit friends, enjoy hob­bies and spend a fair amount of time online. But how many of us know that the inter­net is also a hotbed for anti­semites? Sadly, the num­ber is small unless some­one hits us over the head with it. Let’s face it. State­ments like “kill the Jews” are easy to spot while Microsoft’s dic­tio­nary that changes the word “anti­semitism” incor­rectly to “anti­semitism” is seem­ingly innocu­ous enough to go unde­tected. The same goes for Israel. A per­son who dis­agrees with a pol­icy of Israel is way dif­fer­ent from anti-Zionist who calls for the destruc­tion of the Jew­ish state. It’s the gray area in between that expert advice is war­ranted so the world’s old­est hate doesn’t become the world’s coolest trend.

Part Two: Andre Oboler, Ph.D., Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion of Australia

For Dr. Andre Oboler, he detected anti­semitism in much the same way most do. After a col­lege debate took an anti­se­mitic turn in 2004, he was com­pelled to con­duct his own online research. Oboler noticed some­thing shock­ing. Anti­semites dom­i­nated Google search results for words like “Zion­ism.” He shared his alarm­ing find­ings with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity only to learn that no one han­dled online antisemitism.

That was enough to spur Oboler into action. He quickly launched Zion­ism On The Web, a web­site that he cre­ated specif­i­cally to counter racist argu­ments that were show­ing up in Google.

Now a social media expert, researcher and com­men­ta­tor, Oboler is a pio­neer in detect­ing, mon­i­tor­ing and com­bat­ing online anti­semitism. His research has exam­ined anti­semitism in Face­book, YouTube, Google-Earth, Wikipedia, Flickr, and Yahoo Groups, as well as issues related to the spread of hate through search engines. One of his recent papers cov­ers pol­icy changes in Face­book that removed spe­cific pro­tec­tions against racial and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion and mis­clas­si­fied Holo­caust denial as ‘not hate’ as a mat­ter of policy.

Oboler has paved the way for gen­er­a­tions of Jews to come by coin­ing the term Anti­semitism 2.0 and going pub­lic. He describes anti­semitism 2.0 as hate­ful con­tent that users spread on social media sites like Face­book, You Tube, Twit­ter, My Space, etc. He warns that anti­se­mitic com­ments found in online com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple share and spread ideas affect people’s hearts, minds and val­ues and can go viral and reach mil­lions in a short amount of time.

His research proves that it’s not just orga­nized neo-Nazi groups spread­ing hate these days. Today’s anti­semites come from Islamic web­sites, polit­i­cal activists and a younger gen­er­a­tion that posts hate­ful online con­tent as a way of bul­ly­ing to “get atten­tion” or act “cool.” This is unfor­tu­nate but true. All you have to do is search for the word “Jews” on Twitter.com and you will see loads of com­ments that fit this descrip­tion. Or search for “Holo­caust” or “Israel.” While Face­book has removed most of the Holo­caust denial groups, those attack­ing Israel or mak­ing com­par­isons between Gaza and the Holo­caust are still there.

Oboler is specif­i­cally con­cerned about the con­tent on these sites that spread hate and pro­mote ter­ror­ism and geno­cide. He is quick to point out that anti­semitism casts Jews in a sub­hu­man light and that social media sites must remove it. As the direc­tor of the Com­mu­nity Inter­net Engage­ment (CIE) Project for the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralia, he advises orga­ni­za­tions within Aus­tralia and abroad how to com­bat online anti­semitism. His work has far-reaching value as Oboler com­pares online anti­semitism to a dis­ease and talks openly about how it is infect­ing mil­lions and reshap­ing their thoughts and beliefs about Jews. He even goes as far as to ask:

Imag­ine if Hitler had Facebook?

Think about it. Or what if Hitler tweeted? As of today, Pres­i­dent Barak Obama has 3,111, 059 fol­low­ers, and is lag­ging slightly behind three celebri­ties. This alone shows just how pow­er­ful social media has become in our soci­ety. Obama can instantly reach over 3 mil­lion peo­ple in a mat­ter of seconds.

Oboler brings another issue to light that is sig­nif­i­cant: tech­nol­ogy. With a Ph.D. in com­puter sci­ence, Oboler is famil­iar with not only exam­in­ing online con­tent but also the con­fig­u­ra­tions of sites and what that means for users. Many social media sites have flaws that allow users to mis­use their tech­nol­ogy. One exam­ple he brings up is Face­book. In the past, Facebook’s terms of ser­vice included a state­ment that the com­pany would remove con­tent that was “harm­ful, defam­a­tory, abu­sive, inflam­ma­tory, vul­gar, obscene, and racially, eth­ni­cally or oth­er­wise objec­tion­able.” But Face­book recently changed their terms of ser­vice to only include “con­tent that is hate­ful.” By doing that, Face­book is widen­ing the gap of racism on its site and is telling the world that Holo­caust denial, geno­cide of Jews and the extinc­tion of Israel is socially accept­able. This is note­wor­thy as Face­book is largely a Jewish-owned and oper­ated com­pany. The com­pany seems to have gone to extreme lengths to tol­er­ate con­tent that is harm­ful to Jews and per­haps over­com­pen­sate for its Jew­ish nature.

Another research effort of Oboler’s that received inter­na­tional acclaim is his study of the orange dots on Google Earth that served as replace­ment geog­ra­phy. Each dot linked to the “Pales­tin­ian Remem­bered site,” where users could find fur­ther infor­ma­tion advanc­ing the nar­ra­tive. Oboler’s efforts helped get the replace­ment geog­ra­phy removed. The Google Earth case serves as an exam­ple of how a group can use a com­pany to deliver its ide­olo­gies and indoc­tri­nate their users. Just how ter­ri­ble is that? Well you decide. Esti­mates of Google Earth users range between 200 and 400 mil­lion depend­ing on the source quoted.

While Oboler’s work cur­rently focuses on Aus­tralian Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties, his research and con­sul­tancy is of ben­e­fit inter­na­tion­ally. Oboler’s lead­ing role in the Global Forum to Com­bat Anti­semitism is prov­ing that all it would take is a grant to spread his efforts to other coun­tries. Oboler knows that racism and anti­semitism will never go away entirely but also knows that we can­not let it thrive in our com­mu­ni­ties. He has writ­ten about a Face­book hate group called “Israel is not a coun­try”, selec­tive dele­tions in Wikipedia, Holo­caust denial, rec­og­niz­ing hate and the right to free­dom from per­se­cu­tion and may other equally impor­tant topics.

YouTube is another social media site that Oboler iden­ti­fied as hav­ing a tech­nol­ogy flaw. While any­one can report a video that is anti­se­mitic, racist or offen­sive, those mak­ing hate­ful com­ments fall in a loop­hole. For exam­ple, when he tried to report a user’s pro­file that con­tained state­ments like “kill the Jews,” the site asked for the num­ber of the video he was report­ing. Then, it left him at a stand­still since the site would not accept the infor­ma­tion (form) with­out a video num­ber. Response to inap­pro­pri­ate con­tent is also an issue. Even though he reg­is­tered a com­plaint on You Tube’s forum, no one responded.

So what can peo­ple do to report offen­sive con­tent? Mon­i­tor­ing is the sim­plest answer but user per­cep­tions of con­tent that is anti­se­mitic or anti-Zionist also needs to be mea­sured and assessed from a risk-management per­spec­tive in order to mit­i­gate the worse of it. Because anti­semitism is either sub­tle or bla­tant, Oboler’s research shows that users tend to deal with the more obvi­ous hate while ignor­ing sub­tle anti­semitism that appears on sites like Wikipedia.

After only launch­ing the project Decem­ber 1, 2009, CIE has received a num­ber of online anti­semitism inci­dents from com­mu­nity groups in Aus­tralia. Cur­rently, Oboler’s role focuses on inves­ti­gat­ing inci­dents and then pro­vid­ing addi­tional back­ground infor­ma­tion and rec­om­men­da­tions to the con­cerned par­ties. To date, inci­dents have occurred on YouTube, Wikipedia, Face­book and blogs.

Work­ing with the Anti-Defamation Com­mis­sion in Aus­tralia, CIE is teach­ing peo­ple how to iden­tify and respond to online hate. At this stage, the pro­gram focuses on the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, but other schools and com­mu­nity groups have also expressed an inter­est. CIE’s research also pro­vides a basis for iden­ti­fy­ing and respond­ing to tech­nol­ogy flaws. The project is advis­ing orga­ni­za­tions both within Aus­tralia and inter­na­tion­ally through par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Global Forum to Com­bat Anti­semitism on changes that are needed and on areas where lob­by­ing would be appropriate.

Now that the influ­ence of the web is huge, web­sites that account for heavy traf­fic like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Wikipedia have a respon­si­bil­ity to keep their sites free of anti­semitism and anti-Zionism. The dan­ger stem­ming from both? Oboler believes if we fail to deal with this grow­ing social trend that it may be irre­versible in the next five years. He ranks it as the most seri­ous threat Jews face after nuclear Iran.

Need to com­bat online anti­semitism and fos­ter a strong com­mu­nity? Then visit Oboler’s site to learn more, down­load arti­cles or gain advice. Stay abreast of the lat­est research and devel­op­ments by fol­low­ing Oboler via Twit­ter or Face­book.

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