Farkash-Hacohen: Social media are responsible for fake news, hate speech

"Social media networks have power, and with power comes responsibility," the minister said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen is seen addressing the Athens Democracy Forum. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen is seen addressing the Athens Democracy Forum.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Social media companies need to be held accountable for content uploaded to their platforms, especially with fake news and hate speech so prevalent online, Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said on Thursday at The New York Times Athens Democracy Forum.
"Social media giants have the technology to do whatever they want. Take pornography for example – you cannot find it on the platforms," Farkash-Hacohen, a former content regulator, told the forum. She added that she knows "regular regulation, formal fines and punishment will not be enough" to keep the platforms free of hate speech and fake news. Rather, she stressed that at the end of the day, it's about "self-regulation and commitment. They know how to do it if they decide to do it – just like they are committed to their profits."
She explained the obligation that social media platforms have by comparing it to the responsibilities that governments have to their citizens, particularly because these platforms are now just as, if not more powerful than many nations.
 "Governments are responsible for their citizens. Social networks are more powerful than many countries – they need to have as much, if not more, responsibility towards their users," Farkash-Hacohen said.
"Social media networks have power, and with power comes responsibility and accountability," she said. "They impact our lives and shape our minds. They became havens for hate speech. We need to end that."
She then gave the example of how Twitter refuses to carry out any action against the account of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, despite him making many tweets calling for the destruction of Israel.
"Iranian leader Khamenei continues to call for the destruction of the Jewish state. This is classic antisemitic rhetoric used against Jews. Twitter says this is legitimate, but labels other political tweets," the minister said.
This, she explained, is part of the clear double standard on social media, allowing leaders to incite against Israel or the Jewish people.
"It doesn’t matter if it’s a leader of a country, even a democratic one, or a lone individual inciting. Both can lead to violence."
The problem of hate speech and fake news on social media platforms has become more prominent in recent years, as these platforms gain more prominence in everyday life and as more children grow up accustomed to using them. This means many children are exposed to hateful content targeting them, while the platforms do little to moderate them.
One such platform, TikTok, is marketed to a mainly younger audience. Recent attention has been drawn to the massive amount of antisemitic and far Right content on the platform, the former of which rarely faces any crackdown moderators. One Jewish TikToker told The Jerusalem Post she “has reported accounts with Nazi stuff [that have not been] taken down,” but that accounts with content about Israel “get mass reported and taken down” from the platform, despite complying with the platform's rules.
The wave of hate speech online, which has been further worsened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic fueling conspiracy theories, is something Farkash-Hacohen described as "a second pandemic."
"We, the whole world, are facing a second pandemic. The hate speech and incitement online during COVID-19 is even more dangerous," she told the forum.
"The consequences are real. They affect us, our children and the future of our society."
Eve Young contributed to this report.