Gov't calls on social media companies to label antisemitic content

Twitter representative says comments by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei allowed to remain because of ‘public interest’ in archival, historical record of such comments.

THE TECH giants are banning examples of antisemitism one by one, completely missing the point of the IHRA definition.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE TECH giants are banning examples of antisemitism one by one, completely missing the point of the IHRA definition.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A government task force has called on social media companies to label antisemitic content posted on their sites and train content monitors about antisemitism in order to combat online anti-Jewish hate speech.
The task force issued its policy recommendations in a comprehensive document commissioned by the Strategic Affairs Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry published on Wednesday.
Jewish organizations and agencies of the State of Israel have become increasingly concerned over antisemitic hate speech expressed on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The policy outline document of the two ministries notes that social media companies’ policy on hate speech does not specifically address antisemitism or hate speech against other religions or national groups.
The document recommends that social media companies adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when determining if content is antisemitic.
It says that even if such content does not violate company hate speech rules, the IHRA definition could still be used to label antisemitic content.
The document does acknowledge recent steps taken by Facebook and Twitter in banning and removing Holocaust denial content.
It also notes “the importance of striking the delicate balance between preserving free speech and removing hate speech,” and as such says that labeling antisemitic content would be a good solution and would move the options beyond a binary decision of removing content or allowing it to remain.
The report notes that during the 2020 US election campaign and in its aftermath, both Twitter and Facebook adopted the use of labeling to counter false claims of election fraud, and that it could therefore serve as a model for dealing with antisemitism as well.
The document specifically points to a series of antisemitic tweets by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as an instance where its labeling policy on hate speech or false content was inconsistent.
In a separate policy recommendation, the interministerial document also calls for social media companies to “be more transparent in the ways their algorithms slow virality of hate speech,” saying that doing so would “clarify to users that such content will not become viral.”
And the ministerial task force also recommends that social media companies provide training for content moderators to tackle antisemitic hate speech on their sites.
“An important element in proper enforcement of hate speech policy online is comprehensive training for moderators in hate speech, and specifically antisemitism, assisted by independent civil society organizations and experts who understand the nuances and subtleties of antisemitic discourse,” the report states.
The document says that “a recent conversation with Facebook officials revealed that there is currently no company employee or content moderator specializing specifically in antisemitism.”
It says that it is therefore not clear whether content moderators are familiar with, or make any use of, the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee held a hearing regarding the new policy document, with the participation of representatives from some of the social media companies, including Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.
Both Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch and MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who chaired the hearing, pressed the Twitter representative repeatedly on the site’s toleration of Khamenei’s tweets, including one in May 2020 when he referred to Israel as “a cancerous tumor,” another tweet on the same day saying Israel would “undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed,” and a tweet in September in which he talked of “filthy Zionist agents of the US.”
The representative for Twitter present at the meeting said the company views interaction between “fellow public figures” or comments by world leaders on public affairs “or strident statements on foreign policy, on economic or military issues” as of “unique public interest” and they “are generally not in violation of Twitter rules.”
He added: “When such statements are directed at governments of other countries we will err on the side of keeping such comments on the platform due to the public interest of doing so, due to journalistic, archival, and historical interest in the fact that that leader said that as a statement of foreign policy.”
The representative said that antisemitism and Holocaust denial are covered under Twitter’s hateful conduct policy which covers dehumanization of users, the glorification of violent events and the denial of historical violent events.
The representative also noted that Twitter’s hateful conduct policy has been updated twice since October, including in December when the policy was updated “to address language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin.”
He said that the organization is reviewing the government’s policy recommendations and so did not comment on the issue of labeling or moderator training.