Often media see Islamophobia or anti-Palestinian biased communications without seeing anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist ones. The level of tolerance for anti-Semitism (and certainly anti-Zionism) appears to be substantially higher than that of anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic messages. A study was done by Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center) to test this hypothesis regarding Facebook. We’ve included two articles that have reported on this experiment. The first was reported in the Wall Street Journal (January 13, 2016). The second is a similar report in a column from the Middle East Forum. The MEF column adds some additional information on the front-end.
It is fair and important to note the comment from the ADL (at the very bottom of the Wall Street Journal post) that it isn’t necessarily true that Facebook is biased based on one study such as this, just Facebook may take more time and notification sometimes for them to act.
Anecdotally we do see a greater tolerance for anti-Israel screeds in the media, however. There are many op-eds or letters to the editor that would be rejected if the writer had written “women” or “gays” or “African-Americans” or “Muslims” in place of “Israel.” But it seems to be OK to excoriate Israel or Jewish Israelis instead. If readers see such items please send them to email@example.com.
Many Israelis and Israel-sympathizers fear the impact that social media has had on terrorism. They also believe that a dangerous indifference is at work in terms of what a site like Facebook will allow enemies of Israel to post on their pages.
To test this theory, on Dec. 28 the Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin (also known as the Israel Law Center) launched “The Big Facebook Experiment” seeking to prove whether the social-media giant has a measurable bias against Israel.
The design was simple: Create two Facebook pages, one anti-Palestinian and one anti-Israeli. Then report them to Facebook as violating its user rules, e.g., against hate speech and incitements to violence. Then wait and see what happens.
For purposes of the study, Shurat HaDin posted twin messages on both pages, one page called Stop Israel and the other Stop Palestine. The messages featured increasingly inflammatory material—including “Revenge against the Arab enemy” and “Death to all the Arabs” on the anti-Palestinian page—with the matching “Revenge against the Jewish enemy” and “Death to all the Jews” on the anti-Israeli page.
Shurat HaDin also posted graphic photos on both pages. For example, a photograph on the anti-Israel page featured a young girl preparing to punch an Israeli soldier, with text reading, “these children will liberate Palestine with blood.” That photograph was mirrored on the anti-Palestine page by a picture of a bare-chested Israeli soldier wielding a gun and vowing war with all Arabs.
On Dec. 30, Shurat HaDin reported both pages as violating Facebook standards, using Facebook’s report mechanism of a simple button-click available to all users. Within 24 hours, Facebook sent the NGO a message that the anti-Palestine page it reported had been closed down for “containing credible threat of violence” and that it had “violated our [Facebook’s] community standards.” The page immediately became inaccessible to all Facebook users.
The complaint about the anti-Israel page (which had spiraled into an explicitly anti-Jewish page) also received a reply from Facebook. This reply stated that the content was “not in violation of Facebook’s rules.”
Facebook changed its tune after Jan. 4, when Shurat HaDin published a video detailing the experiment, which made waves in the Israeli press and on social media. After taking down the anti-Israel page, Facebook released a statement on Jan. 5 saying that “Facebook does not tolerate hate speech, including against people on the basis of their nationality. We review all reports and take down such content. Both these pages have now been removed from Facebook.”
Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney who heads Shurat HaDin, said the test had made its point. “With over 30 Israelis killed in terror attacks since October—with many of the murderers receiving encouragement and motivation from social media—it is shocking that Facebook would continue to ignore instances of incitement against Israelis, while quickly fulfilling its obligation to remove other instances of incitement when it sees fit to do so, as we showed in this experiment,” she told the online newspaper Times of Israel on Jan. 5.
Shurat HaDin is trying to make Facebook follow its own standards through other means as well. In October the NGO filed a lawsuit in New York against Facebook on behalf of 20,000 Israelis claiming that the social media network allows incitement to prosper and go unchecked. The lawsuit demands that Facebook take down inciting content as soon as it is made aware of it (presumably through reports by Facebook users).
While Facebook’s double standards are troubling, the media giant is not at the root of the problem. Facebook serves as an avenue for culture; it is not its initial creator. Yet if anti-Israel bias—or even anti-Semitism—has entered the mainstream, then perhaps Facebook may want to reconsider its role as a bystander.
Ms. Botfeld is a writer and researcher with the pro-Israel organization StandWithUS.
An earlier version was published under the pen name Sheila Kugel with an incomplete author identification. Ms. Botfeld did not inform us that Sheila Kugel was a pen name until after the article was published.
Is Facebook Biased Against Israel and Jews?
by Johanna Markind
The Daily Caller
January 28, 2016
Originally published under the title “Facebook On Incitement Against Muslims And Jews: A Tale Of Two Responses.”
|Facebook has been slow to take down pages inciting violence against Israelis and Jews.|
Although Facebook’s ground rules officially prohibit bullying, harassment, and threatening language, last year it received numerous complaints about online incitement. On January 18, Facebook launched an initiative to prevent anti-Muslim hate speech on its German platform. But, according to a lawsuit filed in New York state court and a highly-publicized “experiment,”Facebook has no problem with anti-Jewish incitement.
Last October 20, the German daily Bild printed a double-page newspaper spread documenting racist vitriol posted on Facebook against migrants. On November 10 – days before the Paris attacks – Hamburg prosecutors launched an investigation into Facebook for allegedly failing to remove racist postings. The investigation was reportedly motivated by concern over “how the country’s long-dormant far-right was using Facebook to mobilize” against the influx of refugees. In other words, it was motivated by concern over anti-Muslim and anti-Arab posts.
Perhaps stung by that criticism, mere days after two Muslims murdered fourteen people in San Bernardino, California, CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed that Facebook would “create a peaceful and safe environment” for Muslim users.
On January 18, Facebook launched a Europe-wide campaign to “thwart extremist postings.” This was part of an agreement it reached with Germany. Steps Facebook has taken include hiring the German company Bertelsmann to monitor and delete racist posts to its German platform and funding non-governmental organizations devoted to countering online extremism.
|Facebook responds differently to complaints about incitement against Muslims and Jews.|
There was another Facebook-related headline on January 18. NBC News reported that Shurat HaDin (an Israeli NGO modeled on the Southern Poverty Law Center) was crowdsourcing to raise funds for an ad campaign. Entitled “Zuckerberg don’t kill us,” the campaign is part of an effort to pressure Facebook not to continue tolerating posts inciting Palestinians to kill Jews. The recent wave of Palestinian attacks had killed 29 Israelis and injured 289 as of January 18.
According to Shurat HaDin, Facebook actively assists people inciting murderous attacks against Jews to find others who are interested in acting on the hateful messages by offering friend, group, and event suggestions and targeting advertising based on people’s online “likes” and internet browsing history. What is more, Facebook often refuses to take down the inciting pages, claiming that they do not violate its “community standards.” Last October, Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against Facebook in New York state court, seeking to enjoin Facebook from allowing the incitement to continue.
Shurat HaDin demonstrated Facebook’s bias by conducting an online experiment. On December 28, it set up two Facebook pages, one filled with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel postings, the other with anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian postings. The NGO then ratcheted up the incitement level with parallel posts to both pages, ultimately calling for death to Jews and Arabs.
Then, Shurat HaDin simultaneously reported both pages to Facebook. The same day, Facebook closed the anti-Palestinian page, stating that it violated Facebook’s community standards.
And the page inciting violence against Jews? Initially, Facebook refused to shut it down. Instead, it sent a message reporting that the page did not violate Facebook’s rules. Only after Shurat HaDin reported what it had done and media picked up the story did Facebook change its tune and close the page, claiming the page did indeed violate Facebook standards, and that the earlier message to the contrary had been a “mistake.”
|Facebook must begin applying its ‘community standards’ evenhandedly.|
Now Israel is working to build an international coalition to pressure social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to take greater responsibility for content posted on them. Ideas under discussion include developing legislation to prosecute social media platforms for failing to keep calls for violence and hateful materials off their platforms. The idea has reportedly gained traction in some European countries.
Where is Facebook’s initiative to prevent anti-Jewish incitement on its Israel platform? Why is Facebook responding so differently to complaints about incitement against Muslims and Jews? Is it too protective of Muslims, or too callous toward Jews? And how many times will its hypocrisy have to be exposed before it begins applying its “community standards” evenhandedly?
Johanna Markind is associate counselor at the Middle East Forum