Big tech selective outrage

The hypocrisy and politicization of social media networks are contributing to political polarization and social divisions.

TWITTER’S THEATRICS over Trump’s tweets are ineffective, politicized, and unhelpful at a time of extreme polarization around the world. (photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
TWITTER’S THEATRICS over Trump’s tweets are ineffective, politicized, and unhelpful at a time of extreme polarization around the world.
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
Social media giants have known for years that their platforms are being used for radicalization and to foster extremism, yet little has been done to implement meaningful change. Instead, Twitter and, in particular Facebook, have selectively and partially addressed issues of hate speech or fake information – and only after tremendous public pressure. Their attempts at content moderation have yielded even more problems and distrust in society with arbitrary enforcement, insufficient hate-speech standards, and targeting that comes off as politically motivated.
While these networks have demonstrated an effort to fight misleading news, as well as racism and hate speech against some groups, their willingness to fight antisemitism or misinformation from other groups is completely neglected. The hypocrisy only makes the situation worse.
Alongside other experts in the field, for years I have advocated for Facebook, Google and Twitter, in particular, to tackle issues of rampant antisemitism on their platforms. While Facebook and YouTube have certainly improved, it is unacceptable that every time one of these networks take a step forward in the fight against antisemitism, it occurs after a major incident with international press coverage or worse, real-life consequences – such as the slew of stabbing attacks against Israelis in 2015-2016.
Similarly, Holocaust denial was only explicitly banned on YouTube after major press coverage demonstrated the extent of the problem, and millions upon millions of views had already accumulated.
On Twitter, “dehumanization” of specific groups was added to the Twitter rules only after Louis Farrakhan’s notorious tweet comparing Jews to termites received international condemnation.
Where is the corporate responsibility to work with Jewish communities (as well as other minority groups) to develop proactive methods of combating hate on their platforms?
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been well aware of the problem for years. Yet more than five years after dozens of terrorist attacks that were directly linked to social media radicalization and hate, the same problems persist. Twitter is routinely used as a platform for spreading explicit antisemitism in a variety of languages – from public, political and celebrity figures. Anti-Jewish and other prejudices are also frequently used in state-sponsored propaganda campaigns by countries such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and China.
Facebook is used to perpetuating antisemitic conspiracies, in particular with the coronavirus pandemic. It is also being used by white supremacists to organize and recruit through online groups and pages. Even more disturbing, Facebook’s algorithm rewards users in these circles by recommending similar pages from other hate groups.
FACEBOOK CLAIMS it has developed methods to combat this by redirecting searches to a “Life After Hate” page, but the Tech Transparency Project reported in 2020 that these measures worked a mere 6% of the time when tested.
While all three networks have cracked down on incitement against some minority groups, they have applied their standards inconsistently, and increasingly it seems, with political motivation. On a regular basis, Twitter allows shameful antisemitism and Holocaust denial to thrive on their platform – including antisemitic conspiracy theories, antisemitic tropes, and open calls for the destruction of Israel by world leaders.
All the while, they’re playing cat and mouse with President Trump, marking his tweets as “misleading” and placing other warnings on several of his tweets in the last month. Contrast that with Twitter’s warnings on the tens of thousands of fake accounts used to promote the state-sponsored propaganda in favor of Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and China on Twitter. If you don’t remember seeing those warnings, it’s because there weren’t any.
While many of these propaganda campaigns were eventually tracked and removed, Twitter’s theatrics over Trump’s tweets are ineffective, politicized, and unhelpful at a time of extreme polarization around the world.
Big tech companies have made big promises to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate speech on their platforms, but haven’t actually done the work needed to proactively combat such hate speech against Jews or other minority groups. For years, antisemitic conspiracies have spread like wildfire on social media, but what begins with Jews doesn’t ever end with Jews. In the last month, there was a significant increase in conspiracy theories surrounding the George Floyd protests, with some claiming the entire tragedy was fabricated.
It’s not enough to call on Facebook, Twitter and Google to “remove hate speech and fake news.” We’ve done that for years and the result has been a spotty, politically contentious, inadequate content-moderation policy with which seemingly everyone is unhappy. Real change requires big tech teaming up with minority communities to define hate speech and address the unique challenges each of these groups face, whether it be antisemitism, homophobia, anti-black racism or other forms of hate.
We can’t expect Facebook and other networks to remove antisemitism when they can’t even define what it is. It’s time for these networks to define with the consensus of the Jewish community what they’re fighting, and proactively come up with technical solutions to address it. Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of what antisemitism is, anyway. Jews should.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.