Jennifer Hanin writes a feature on Dr Andre Oboler for her popular blog

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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