The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to Facebook today protesting seven examples of virulently antisemitic material that the social media giant is allowing to stay up on the site, even after the posts were flagged.
“The argument that these are hard calls, or that these are difficult to detect, is just not true,” said Dave Sifry, vice president at ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, based in Silicon Valley.
The posts include a quote from Goebbels with a Star of David graphic, an octopus and news logos; a reposted picture of a man with a sign saying “Hitler was right”; a collage of Jewish politicians altered to show them with yellow stars; and a fake book (“Jewish Supremacism for Dummies”) with text saying Jews “mass-murdered 100 million non-Jews over the last century but they’ve seized control of the media so you won’t find out.” There are also pedophilia accusations and Rothschild conspiracies.
According to the letter, addressed to the company’s oversight board, ADL asked the Menlo Park-based company to take down the posts in May. “Facebook rejected these requests both on the first and second levels of review,” the letter says. “Facebook’s review found they did not violate the platform’s Community Standards.”
Facebook’s standards define hate speech as content that is “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we call protected characteristics: race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and serious disease.” The company specifically mentions, as examples of content that violates its standards, “Jewish people and rats” and “Jewish people running the world or controlling major institutions such as media networks, the economy or the government.”
So why doesn’t a post about the Rothschilds controlling the world count as hate speech?
“That’s a great question for Facebook,” Sifry said. “We asked the same question.”
“Portrayed as a tiny group perceived as holding inordinate power, Jews are easy to label as dangerous outsiders,” the letter says. “There is a clear connection between online antisemitic, racist and hateful images and tropes reverberating on Facebook and offline hate and violence directed at marginalized communities.”
“We are horrified by the dramatic rise in anti-Semitism around the world,” a Facebook company spokesperson said in a statement provided to J. “We prohibit hate speech on our platform and over the past year we’ve taken additional steps to combat rising antisemitism, including banning antisemitic stereotypes. We also use other tools to fight antisemitism such as banning dangerous organizations and individuals and preventing the incitement of violence and the coordination of harm.”
Sifry said that not only were the complaints rejected through normal channels, even the connections his center had with Facebook didn’t help. The CTS regularly coordinates with tech companies and has a board populated with high-level people. In this case, Sifry said, it didn’t help.
The ADL letter asks Facebook’s oversight board to overrule the decision allowing the posts to stay. It also makes the point that the problem is not about the seven posts in particular. Rather, it’s part of a larger pattern of tech companies not meeting the challenge of regulating hate speech on their platforms. And while it’s arguable whether some content is antisemitic, Sifry said that’s not what’s happening here.
“These are not borderline cases,” Sifry said. “These are egregious examples.”