Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert with a focus on online antisemitism and online public diplomacy. He is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention...
Mon,Dec 9,2013 6 Tevet 5774
Around 75 people attended a protest earlier today outside Facebook’s Offices in California. The protesters were demanding Facebook take positive action to stop the abuse of the Facebook system to spread Holocaust denial and antisemitism. The protest was called by Michael Mendelson out of growing frustration at the lack of positive responsiveness from Facebook to hundreds of reports of hate speech on the social media platform.
As CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, for the last few months I’ve had the privilege of working with Michael in his capacity as the administrator of the almost 13,000 strong Facebook page “Help Report Hate & Anti Semitic Pages”, and in his role as the leader of a group of over 500 grassroots activists from around the world. Each day there is a flood of new content discovered and shared, and the volunteers review and report them. Sometimes they have a victory and content is removed. More often than not, the reports are rejected.
No professional organisation can, on its own, handle the flood of hate speech that occurs on a platform like Facebook. It takes a grassroots response to find and report such hate. That’s what Michael and his volunteers have been tirelessly doing. If Facebook took their responsibility to prevent the spread of antisemitism, Holocaust denial and other forms of hate speech seriously, these grassroots efforts would on their own solve the problem.
Unfortunately, Facebook is not nearly proactive enough. The shelter Facebook is given by some major Jewish organisations, who appear to value a “close relationship” with the company over strong action on the problem, makes Facebook complacent. Facebook still refuses to acknowledge that Holocaust denial is hate speech. Repeated statements saying they find it repugnant are meaningless while they continue to make an exception and exclude it from their general policy against hate speech. This is where other, mostly newer, organisations step in.
I worked with Michael and his activists to create 6 practical demands for change. We’ve put these in the form of a petition the public could support. By the time of the protest over 650 people from 37 countries had signed the call for change. With Michael’s help we were also able to distribute a letter of support to all those who attended the protest. We’ve just extended the closing date by a week so others can still join us.
The Online Hate Prevention Institute was not the only group to support the protest and promote it online. Organisations like StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) supported the protest with placards, promotional material and people. Other groups and Facebook pages such as Children Of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Sign Petitions To Ban Holocaust Denial From FB As Hate Speech, They Can't, Boycott Watch, Stand With Us San Diego, and Students For Israel (SFI) also supported the protest with online campaigning. A successful campaign takes people and cooperation between organisations. As an independent activist, Michael has done an amazing job bringing so many together.
On its own a protest won’t achieve change. OHPI has made some progress after our last report into Antisemitism on Facebook, with Facebook finally accepting the problem with the content our report documented and taking the appropriate steps to removing it. We are now working on a new report focused on some of the examples found by Michael’s activists, rejected by Facebook, and then buried as more and more new examples of hate are discovered.
One hate page we have examined in depth, and which Facebook has still not removed, is the “Untold History” a Holocaust denial page. Facebook did ban some accounts belonging to the administrator, but when they failed to close the page, the administrator used it to promote 22 new Holocaust denial pages he created in “retaliation” at Facebook. This is why such pages can’t just be ignored. They provide the infrastructure for the promotion of racial hatred with society and put communities and individuals at risk of harm.
As we announced in our letter to the protesters, the Online Hate Prevention Institute is looking to build a new system that will let activists log the reports they make with Facebook in our independent system as well. Facebook’s response, and the growth of these hate pages, can then be monitored over time. Advanced features, to be added at a later stage, will make the data available to researchers and civil rights organisations. Such a system will allow civil society to collectively speak truth to power and to show the world exactly how badly Facebook is failing when it comes to upholding their terms of service which prohibit hate speech. The fundraising campaign for the $12,000 needed to start building the system ends in 24 days. Due to very generous support from the ROI Community, we need to raise a little over $5,000 more to meet our goal and start work on vital tool for change. Please help if you can.
The major problem is not that people are posting hate. The problem is that when volunteers take the time to let Facebook know about it, more often than not those reports are rejected. This is happening even in clear case like the “Untold History” example. Today’s protest in Palo Alto brought the problem home to those responsible. It brought the issue to Facebook's door. It's about time Facebook started to take the issue, and the reports of its users, a little more seriously. Together, I'm sure we can make that happen.