Huge tech companies like YouTube and Facebook have developed algorithms that they use to determine “hate speech.” When the determination is made, the entry is banned. The algorithms are needed to handle the vast amounts of material posted on these sites, too much for humans to monitor and then rationally decide. Instead, a computer makes the decision. Certainly, computers make the determination in the first stages of “hate-speech” selection.
Billions of elements in the system are filtered through the hate-speech algorithm.
The words “Zionist” and “Zionism” seem to have become trigger words. That means posting a presentation on YouTube about being a Zionist may land you, your site, or your organization in the category of being banned due to “hate-speech.”
That is exactly what happened to JBS TV last week.
On Friday, YouTube banned a JBS presentation. A speech delivered by JBS TV president and CEO Mark S. Golub and then presented on its station before being uploaded to YouTube, titled Being a Liberal America Zionist Today, was removed from the YouTube site. The taped presentation was delivered in an established Reform temple, L’Dor V’Dor Congregation, located in the very liberal town of Little Neck, New York.
The exact quote from the screenshot on YouTube after Rabbi Golub’s presentation was pulled read, “Removed for violating YouTube’s policy of hate speech.” The video was down for six hours, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
JBS is the Jewish Broadcasting Service. It is a non-profit Jewish educational network created by Golub. JBS sees itself as a PBS-style network that engages its viewers with ideas about Judaism and Israel. The purpose of JBS is to advance discussion about significant issues that matter to the Jewish people and to Israel. They do so with grace, aplomb and passion, bringing together creative, engaging Jewish minds to discuss valuable and compelling ideas. JBS is in a class of its own, a gift to thinking and caring American Jewry.
I can say without any doubt that Golub does not promote any form of hate. I would go as far as to say that he harbors no hate. He believes in dialogue and open discussion. Golub is a traditional American liberal raised in the tradition of civil rights and love of baseball. He is a person who fights injustice and was deeply offended and distressed by being categorized as promoting hate. He was more than dumbfounded to discover that his liberal, non-hateful, actually inclusive presentation was chosen to be banned by YouTube. He was only promoting Zionism, an expression of his love for Israel.
IN HIS presentation, Golub expressed “empathy for the Palestinian people,” explaining that traditional Jewish values and liberal American values dictate his “appreciation of the State of Israel.”
I must openly admit that while I am stunned by YouTube’s decision, I am not an impartial observer. I am a staunch Zionist and defender of Israel. I have very little patience for attacks against Israel being termed merely anti-Zionist and anti-Israel when they are, in fact, flat-out antisemitic. And I host a weekly show on JBS titled Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern. I am also a frequent guest on Golub’s roundtable discussion shows and can attest firsthand that he is a passionate, vocal defender of justice and of Israel.
It all goes back to the algorithm. In the end, after an onslaught of protests from devoted viewers who received an emergency email from Golub and a formal appeal from JBS, the YouTube piece was reinstated. The backlash against the ban and the appeal to reason prevailed because those were addressed to humans, not to a computer reliant on artificial intelligence.
The damage was done and the glitch in YouTube’s algorithm has been revealed. They never explained why the video just reappeared and never informed JBS that it was back up but we know why it happened.
YouTube will not publicize their algorithm. But the notion that “Zionism” can be equated with hate and that the YouTube computer algorithm will continue to identify it as such is a real problem. It is antisemitic. It is deeply offensive. It is wrong. And if, perchance, it was hateful YouTube viewers who used YouTube’s “report” function to report hateful speech or something else they thought violated the rules and set in motion an evaluation – it is just as wrong. It means that JBS was targeted.
Bottom line is this: Antisemites have hijacked the word Zionism and turned it into something evil.
The algorithm of antisemitism is the next gargantuan obstacle which lovers of Israel now need to confront.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.