Facebook’s blind spot to Antisemitism

Click to download  "Recognizing Hate Speech: Antisemitism on Facebook" (3.5MB)
Click to download “Recognizing Hate Speech: Antisemitism on Facebook” (3.5MB)

Facebook’s refusal to recognize Holocaust denial as hate speech, and ban it from the social media platform, is today well known. I have monitored this and other manifestations of antisemitism on social media platforms since first exposing the problem of “Antisemitism 2.0” five years ago. Last week, however, I released a major new reportrevealing additional blind spots in Facebook’s understanding of antisemitism. The nature of these blind spots is startling, from racist images directly based on Nazi propaganda to copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The new report doesn’t just highlight mistakes; it demonstrates systematic problems and ones that couldn’t be resolved even after the issues concerned were directly brought to Facebook’s attention. Facebook did remove many of the examples of antisemitism the research leading to the new report covered, such as the profile for “Johnny Jew Killa” and the pictures of an altered KFC logo with Colonel Sanders with the words “Kentucky Fried Jews”, but it is the items that weren’t removed that give the greatest cause for concern.

Nazi-IsraelSubtle and insidious forms of antisemitism, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and messages calling for the elimination of the Jewish state are less obvious forms of antisemitism to the general community and are better able to spread on social media platforms like Facebook. This creates the sort of acceptance of hate against Jews that means those who may otherwise stand up against racism are more likely to give antisemitism as free pass.

Similarly, the use of symbolism related to the Nazis is used not only to attack Israel and Jews, but also to invert the Holocaust. This creates false comparisons which trivialise the Holocaust and misinform the ignorant. Such sentiments make it more acceptable to praise the Nazis and express support for their final solution, that is for genocide. The genocide committed during the Holocaust is also mocked. Anne Frank, perhaps the most well known victim of the Holocaust, appeared in multiple memes trivialising her death. One image featured Anne Frank with the caption “What’s that burning? Oh it’s my family”. This was eventually taken off line when the page it was on was closed. Other examples such as an image of Anne Frank with the caption #YOLOCAUST” were not removed.  YOLO is an abbreviation for “you only live once” and its use in reference to a genocide mocks the deaths and trivializes the lives of those involved. At the time of writing this image stillavailable here.

AnneWhat’s even more alarming than the symbolism is the reuse of Nazi imagery. One example Facebook refused to remove was an image of a rat with a magen david (star of David) on it and the caption “The real plague”. The accompanying text read, “Fuck Israel …!!! Burn this Nazi Trash”. The image references antisemitic themes begun in the 14th Century when Jews were blamed for the Black Death, which in reality was carried by rats. More directly, this combination reflects the infamous Nazi propaganda film, The Eternal Jew, which made explicit the comparison between Jews and plague carrying rats. This imagery, it has been said, “directly incit[ed] physical violence by stirring some of people’s deepest fears and anxieties”. At the time of writing this image was still available here.

no-IsraelThe calls for Israel’s elimination are an expression of new antisemitism, a phenomenon which Prof Irwin Cotler, then Canada’s Minister of Justice, explained in 2008 as, “discrimination against and denial of the right of Israel and the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations.” Images directly calling for Israel’s destruction, or for its elimination, can also be seen as a call for genocide. Direct public incitement to commit genocide is a punishable act under Article III of the United Nations Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It is a violation of international law and a crime against humanity. These are not legitimate criticism of policy, they are hate speech pure and simple. There is no excuse for this content. At the time of writing an image with the flag of Israel in the cross hairs of a rifle and blood splattered across the lenses was still online herehere and here.

While I have provided links that would allow readers to report these images, and I encourage readers to do so, the truth is that until Facebook has a change of heart, your reporting means nothing. That’s what this report exposes. Despite knowing about the content discussed in this article, Facebook have rejected all past reporting of these items via the Facebook system, and also failed to take action when we provided them with our complete list of problems over a month before the new report was released. It’s great that some content was removed, but even if 95% of it had been removed, that doesn’t excuse a failure to take action on the remaining items. Nor does it excuse an unwillingness to learn and to begin to recognize new forms of antisemitism.  The Holocaust is not about the percent of Jews that were killed, it is about the loss of each and every individual.

If the voice of the people will be ignored by Facebook when people report this vile hatred, then another way needs to be found to speak truth to power. I am starting a petition, shared for the first time in this article, which calls on Facebook to remove all the items discussed in this new report and to implement the reports 14 recommendations. Whether it is by e-mail or by word of mouth around the seder, this is an issue people need to know about. The acceptance of antisemitism on Facebook started with the Holocaust, and Facebook’s the blind spot just keeps growing. I ask you to join me in signing the petition and spreading the word.

Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. He is an expert in Online Antisemitism and co-chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism.

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, “Facebook’s blind spot to Antisemitism“, Jerusalem Post Blogs, 25 March 2013