It’s time for Big Tech to adopt IHRA definition of antisemitism

If we are pressuring world leaders to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, why aren’t we pressuring Big Tech leaders as well?

AN OFFICE of Google in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN OFFICE of Google in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to persuade countries to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. As attacks against Jews and Jewish communities continue to skyrocket, many countries have recognized the need to take the concerns of the Jewish community more seriously.
But one of the places we see the most virulent forms of antisemitism is online. If we are pressuring world leaders to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, why aren’t we pressuring Big Tech leaders as well? It’s time to begin the discussion about corporate adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism, also known as the “working definition of antisemitism,” arose in response to increasing modern-day antisemitism. This new Jew hatred is often manifested in “anti-Zionist” sentiments used as a cover for old-school, classic antisemitism. IHRA worked to build international consensus in redefining and detailing what exactly antisemitism is, and looks like. The definition is important because it provides clear-cut examples of what specific actions can be defined as antisemitism (or not).
In 2015 the IHRA plenary attendees, 31 countries, adopted the following definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
IHRA outlines concrete examples of how this definition is manifest in behaviors such as “targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” accusing Jews, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, accusing Jews of dual loyalties, comparing Israel to Nazis, denying Jews the right to self-determination, using antisemitic caricatures or symbols to represent Israel and, finally, holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions or policies of Israel.
In addition to the 31 countries that adopted the working definition in 2015, eight countries have adopted it as an internal policy, including France, Germany, the UK and most recently Italy, and many have adopted the definition as their state policy. This becomes more significant in practical terms because when a country adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism, it also appoints a national coordinator to combat antisemitism.
While the international consensus seems to be serious about combating antisemitism throughout the world, the same cannot be said about Big Tech – more specifically, the social media giants. While Facebook, Twitter and Google are private companies, they also have a huge social impact and as such responsibility. For that reason, they have faced multiple legal battles in removing terrorist activity, antisemitic hate speech, calls to violence against Jews, neo-Nazi propaganda, and even just online bullying against Jews. That’s not even getting into social media sites like 4Chan, Reddit, 9Gag, and others which have become hubs for antisemitic indoctrination and hate in recent years.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all have their own set of “community standards,” yet the high number of antisemitic posts and content compared to “community standard” violations in other content areas is alarming. In 2017, the World Jewish Congress reported that every 83 seconds an antisemitic post is published online. In January 2018, it reported that Holocaust denial online was up by 30%. A survey by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that 80% of respondents who had come across antisemitic statements in the past year had experienced it online, and that number jumped to nearly 90% for ages 16-29.
This is especially problematic given that one of the key problems with online antisemitism is that it normalizes things like Holocaust denial and outrageous antisemitic beliefs. Free speech matters, but hate speech isn’t free speech – even according to the definitions of social networks.
For years, Facebook has struggled with failure to remove hate pages with titles such as “death to zionist babykillers.” While there has been some improvement on Facebook (perhaps partially as a result of a class action lawsuit by Shurat HaDin), these companies are clearly floundering when it comes to deciding what is and isn’t antisemitic content. It would be helpful not only for the world, but also internally for their employees and algorithms, to use IHRA’s definition of antisemitism to determine if content posted is indeed antisemitic.
Today, antisemitic content continues to creep up on a daily basis on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more. We continue to see that terrorists from the far Right, or from radical Islam, use the Internet and social media as a critical tool in their radicalization.
It is time for Twitter, Facebook and Google to step up and set an example for Internet accountability. It’s time for corporate adoption of IHRA, which could ensure that each company appoints a specific leader to aggressively deal with the scourge of antisemitism on its platform, and make sure that the issue is always on the agenda and not overlooked or misunderstood by those who don’t fully grasp the severity of the situation.
Google, Facebook and Twitter should not be depending on organizations and nonprofits to actively search for antisemitic content only to report it. They lead the world in many technological advances; it’s time for them to take the lead in combating antisemitism proactively as well.
Given the outrageous and rampant antisemitism we see online in multiple languages, it would send a powerful message for companies such as Facebook to formally adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
The writer is the CEO and co-founder of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.