(July 31, 2020 / JNS) Once heralded for bringing people together as a new form of digital communication, social-media companies have come under greater scrutiny in recent years for the spread of disinformation and extremism on their platforms.
On July 29, the Israeli Knesset held a hearing concerning the growing concern of anti-Semitism found on social media.
Member of Knesset from the Blue and White Party, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, told JNS, “Today’s important debate served as an opportunity to call on Twitter and the other social media platforms to adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.”
At the hearing, representatives from Twitter and Facebook were taken to task over the rampant anti-Semitism on their platforms.
In the debate with Ylwa Pettersson, head of Twitter Policy for the Nordics and Israel, Cotler-Wunsh called on Twitter to adopt and implement the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and utilize it to combat the hatred, double standards and violence against Jews taking place on its platform.
“Calling for genocide on Twitter is OK, but commenting on political situations in certain countries is not OK?” asked Cotler-Wunsh. “I think that what’s come up again and again through different examples is actually a sense of double standards.”
Cotler-Wunsh said she found Twitter’s response to be shocking. As she wrote on the platform, “Wow. Twitter just admitted that tweets calling genocide against Jews by Iranian leaders DON’T violate its policy! This is a double standard. This is anti-Semitism.”
Alongside other important government officials and experts in the debate, Cotler-Wunsh invited writers and digital communications professionals Hen Mazzig and Emily Schrader, as well as attorney Arsen Ostrovsky, to add their voices to the conversation.
Ostrovsky, an international human-rights lawyer and executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, questioned the Twitter representative as to why the company flags tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump and not those of Iranian leadership that call for the mass murder of Jews.
According to Ostrovsky in a statement afterwards to JNS, “The blatant hypocrisy and double standard from the Twitter representative was jarring and shocking. She literally looked us in the face and said that the Iranian leader’s call for genocide against us was an acceptable form of political discourse.”
The problem, as Ostrovsky noted, is that “Twitter cannot on the one hand say it is committed to tackling hate and violence when it continues to provide an unfiltered platform to the Iranian leader to continue espousing calls for genocide and terror.”
Mazzig and Shrader corroborated the committee’s concern that violence online can lead to violence offline.
They also highlighted the committee’s concerns about rising displays of anti-Semitism targeting Jews around the world, and how Twitter’s claims of utilizing consensus definitions of anti-Semitism and the manner in which they are implemented are either non-transparent, inefficient or simply false.
Cotler-Wunsh also raised the imperative for the social media platforms to acknowledge their responsibility, create a transparent policy and then consistently hold abusers of the policy to account.
The Knesset discussion concluded with calls for more information on what the social media platforms are doing to both preemptively and reactively combat anti-Semitism. The committee plans to meet next week on Monday to continue the discussion.
Response to offensive rhetoric too slow, lacks teeth
According to the Focus Project, an initiative that “develops and distributes messages to help influencers and organizations combat anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel”, the University of Haifa and Israel’s Institute for Counter Terrorism said that one-fifth of far-right extremist posts on the TikTok platform contained anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial.
The attitude towards hate speech by Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram, is typical of similar platforms. From racism and misogyny to homophobia and transphobia to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, social-media administrators respond to hateful content too slowly, half-heartedly penalize with toothless discipline and leave too much offensive content online.
This week, in response to dozens of anti-Semitic tweets and Instagram posts by British rapper Wiley, activists launched a global 48-hour boycott of Twitter and Instagram through the #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate campaign.
In posts to his 500,000 followers, Wiley compared the Jewish people to the Ku Klux Klan, called for Jews to be shot, said Jews “make me sick” and are “slippery,” “snakes” and “cowards,” and wrote: “Israel does not belong to you [Jews].”
Twitter and Instagram both deleted some posts, while leaving others untouched, and banned Wiley for seven days.
According to the Focus Project, social-media platforms serious about minimizing hate can enact specific actions to change the environment for users immediately. Some suggestions include hiring a C-suite level executive with civil-rights expertise; submitting regularly to third-party, independent audits; and creating an internal mechanism to automatically flag hateful content for human review.
The Focus Project called for all social-media companies to demonstrate their commitment to rid their platforms of anti-Semitism by adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.
Cotler-Wunsh called on Twitter to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. “Twitter cannot claim to be combating this form of hatred without using the consensus definition for it,” she tweeted.
In her statement to JNS, she added, “It is clear that without utilizing this consensus definition, the platforms have no means to combat and expose the hatred and double standards that are rampant online. Twitter and others must be held to account lest they encourage a continuing culture of impunity.”
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