In his congressional testimony on Jan. 15, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on the government to “encourage” social media platforms to take stronger action against online anti-Semitism.
Such encouragement, said Greenblatt, could take many forms, from congressional oversight to the crafting of legislation mandating certain levels of transparency and auditing.
Speaking before the House Homeland Security Committee, Greenblatt said that the internet and social media have greatly enabled anti-Semitism.
“Online forums allow isolated anti-Semites to become more active and involved in virtual campaigns of ideological recruitment and radicalization,” said Greenblatt. “Individuals can easily find sanction, support, and reinforcement online for their extreme beliefs or actions, and the internet offers a reading and viewing library of tens of thousands of anti-Semitic pieces of content. White supremacists, for example, can easily access sites and content that serve the role of a 24/7 neo-Nazi rally.”
Greenblatt highlighted an ADL report from 2017 noting that there were 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets that year and an August 2019 ADL study concluding that there are “a significant number of channels on YouTube’s platform that continued to disseminate anti-Semitic and white supremacist content.” Five anti-Semitic channels that the ADL monitored had more than 81 million views in July alone, according to Greenblatt.
Anti-Semitism online needs to be addressed because it metastasizes into the real world, Greenblatt argued. He pointed to a 2019 ADL study on anti-Semitism in the video-gaming world as an example.
“ADL’s Center on Technology and Society found that 19 percent of Jewish respondents experienced hate and harassment based on their identity as a Jew,” said Greenblatt. “More worrisome is that between eight and 23 percent of respondents across the spectrum of identities confessed to adjusting how they socialize, considering self-harm, or taking precautions to ensure physical safety because of their experience with online hate and harassment. Alarmingly, nearly 23 percent of online gamers were exposed to white supremacist ideology through in-game social interactions.”
The ADL CEO also warned of white supremacists publishing lists that “dox,” or expose the true identities of, various Jewish individuals.
“Lists of Jews in any form on white supremacist platforms are alarming, especially given the ongoing threats of anti-Semitic violence and the targeting of synagogues and Jewish organizations,” Greenblatt said. “While some trolling tactics do not explicitly call for violence against Jews, it is impossible to know who might interpret the lists and photographs as a call to action.”
He recommended that the social media companies enforce their terms of service to combat anti-Semitism on their respective platforms.
“Every social media and online game platform must have clear terms of service that address hateful content and harassing behavior, and clearly define consequences for violations,” Greenblatt said. “These policies should state that the platform will not tolerate hateful content or behavior based on protected characteristics. They should prohibit abusive tactics such as harassment, doxing and swatting.”
Greenblatt also suggested that social media platforms conduct regular third-party audits regarding “the extent of hate and harassment on a given platform.” The results of the audits should then be released to the public, he said.
“Companies need to conduct a thoughtful design process that puts their users first, and incorporates risk and radicalization factors before, and not after, tragedy strikes,” he added.
Earlier in his testimony, Greenblatt discussed anti-Semitism that takes the guise of anti-Zionism.
“Many Jews, including those who are critical of Israeli government policies, consider Zionism to be a positive movement of Jewish self-determination, born out of millennia of diaspora and of persecution in nearly every land in which they settled,” said Greenblatt. “Increasingly, rejection of Zionism and the Jewish state is imposed as a litmus test to determine whether individual Jews—or Jewish groups—exhibit sufficient progressive bona fides to warrant inclusion in progressive circles or initiatives. This singles out Jews and can exclude and discriminate against them in ways to which no other religious group faces.”
Greenblatt urged universities to take action when Jewish students face such discrimination and harassment on campus. If they don’t, he argued, then action can be taken under President Donald Trump’s December executive order.
“[The order] does not, and should not, give universities a license to silence voices on campus, including those that criticize the policies of the Israeli government,” said Greenblatt, “but by referencing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, it does provide important guidance to help universities determine when advocacy crosses the line to targeted, discriminatory, unlawful anti-Semitic conduct, and it gives the Department of Education further recourse to protect Jewish American students and ensure a harassment-free education environment.”
While the Internet’s vital role in allowing for innovation and democratizing trends should be preserved, the widespread exploitation of social media platforms for hateful and harmful conduct needs to be addressed at the same time, said Greenblatt.
Greenblatt’s full testimony can be read here.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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