5 August 2021

Three ways social media organisations can help beat anti-Semitism

By Isabel Sawkins

How is it that a comment such as “f*** the Jews” is not considered a breach of Twitter’s rules? Or “Hitler was right”?  These were examples published in a recent report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. As Stephen Pollard noted on CapX earlier this week, it detailed a shocking lack of attention to anti-Jewish hatred, with Twitter and Facebook failing to remove nine out of ten incidents of anti-Semitism.

In the case of Twitter, a big part of the problem is that the application of platform rules regarding abuse is inconsistent and incoherent. Even though they argue that abusive behaviour is forbidden, as is hateful conduct “on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease”, actions speak louder than words and Twitter is failing to act.

Twitter did take a step in the right direction with its brief partnership with Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), a “volunteer-led charity dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism through education and zero-tolerance enforcement of the law”, but the company ceased contact with them after CAA highlighted the platform’s inconsistency in tackling racism directed at Jews. Even though Twitter has not commented on why their partnership ended so abruptly, it is evident that they and other social media platforms are reluctant to intervene in this area.

Remember too that online racism has real world consequences, and it also responds to international events. A new report from the Community Security Trust has found that anti-Semitic incidents have surged by 49% compared to last year, coinciding with an escalation of the conflict in Gaza.

Given this concerning trend and the upcoming conversations about the Online Safety Bill, it’s more important than ever to ask what concrete steps we can take to stem the tide of anti-Jewish hate. It is widely accepted, and even advocated by organisations such as UNESCO, that education in schools, colleges and universities is a crucial part of tackling anti-Semitism. If so, why is this not extended to adults and more broadly across society?

First, the people who work for social media organisations and are tasked with removing this hateful content need to know what they are looking for. That means signposting anti-Semitic hashtags used by perpetrators, such as #holohoax and #killthejews. The anti-Semitic caricatures used in cartoons, and the principal themes and tropes of contemporary anti-Semitism (which include, but are by no means limited to, Jewish world control, Holocaust denial, and Jewish responsibility for the spread of Covid-19) should also be flagged. Armed with better information and more context, employees will be better able to identify anti-Semitic behaviour on their platforms

Just as schools, colleges and universities across the UK do, companies like Twitter and Facebook could also partner with anti-racism organisations to help educate their staff. Some private organisations have already taken the initiative, for example Chelsea Football Club and the Holocaust Educational Trust launched the “Say No to Antisemitism” Campaign, which enables players to listen to talks from Holocaust survivors and visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Second, we need to be educating those who commit these horrendous offences. Banning them from public platforms is an important initial step, but unless we also debunk the myths at the core of their hateful beliefs they will simply seek out new avenues to spew their hatred without consequence. One option might be to send those who share racist material on an educational course in order to be “re-admitted” to the social media platform. The biggest issue here is being able to identify the perpetrator, which can be very difficult given the high number of anonymous abusers on social media.

Finally, we need to give broader society the tools to easily report anti-Semitic behaviour online. Coupled with stricter social media policy, we need to equip members of society with the confidence to take meaningful action, and guidance on how to report these incidents. This could be as simple as a video or a webpage outlining key anti-Semitic hashtags, tropes and themes and how to report them.

The Online Safety Bill is a step in the right direction in this respect. But ultimately, without social media organisations showing that they are dedicated to taking responsibility for these abuses, without them changing their policies and preventing the spread of anti-Semitism on their websites, little will change. Education is not the only answer to this predicament, it needs to be coupled with structural reform. The UK government and social media platforms must take a firmer stance and show their commitment to fighting this stain on British society.

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Isabel Sawkins is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.