This report on online antisemitism looks bad. Could reality be worse?

This new report from CCDH paints a gloomy picture, but there’s good reason to believe reality is grimmer (counterhate.com).

Anyone who is Jewish and has been online knows that social media is awash in antisemitism. Still, it’s rare that anyone quantifies the toxicity.

The London- and Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Countering Digital Hate recently did just that. Its new report spotlights the incredibly lax enforcement of community guidelines regarding antisemitism.

From May 18-June 29, CCDH reported 714 instances of antisemitic content appearing on five social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. Eighty-four percent of those reported posts “were not acted on by social media companies,” even after being flagged for antisemitism. That was true for 89% of antisemitic conspiracy posts and 80% of “posts that denied or minimized the Holocaust.”

The most permissive platforms were Facebook, which acted on 10.9% of reported posts, and Twitter, which acted on 11%. Even TikTok, which is infamous for its antisemitic content, acted on 18.5% of reports.

These numbers are notably low, but reality may actually be grimmer for two reasons: First, the search terms CCDH used skewed away from the far-left and Islamist antisemitism, which is just as much an issue as the far-right extremism the CCDH examined. Second, the content Facebook largely ignored violated the social media giant’s own tailored antisemitism guidelines.

The CCDH report opens with a reference to “the spread of white supremacy and hate across social media,” conveying the report’s emphasis. Jew-hatred is central to white supremacy, but white supremacy represents only one subset of antisemitism.

In the report, many relevant terms remained unsearched. For example, there is no mention of “Jewish supremacy,” nor derisive references to Zionists or Israeli-Nazi comparisons. The report didn’t include instances where Israel is characterized as genocidal or murderous calls to globalize the intifada or free Palestine “from the river to the sea.”

Callum Hood, CCDH head of research, explained, “The report is primarily intended as a test of platforms’ recent additional commitments on tackling antisemitism, particularly Facebook’s new standards on antisemitism …. As such, CCDH selected examples that most clearly breach those standards but were not acted upon.”

Still, excluding terminology that doesn’t skew far-right paints an incomplete picture of contemporary antisemitism — especially when this research project commenced during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. It also sidesteps an important test, given Silicon Valley’s known political bias. Social media moderators are presumably less likely to notice left-wing antisemitism or more likely to accept it as criticism of Israel, even when it’s incitement.

The Jew-hatred social media companies would most likely recognize and willingly police is invective from the widely reviled far-right. That these five platforms largely failed to do so is striking. However, it also seems certain that the reaction rate CCDH recorded would drop even lower if far-left posts were included.

As for Facebook, it adopted “specific rules against antisemitic content” last summer. Those rules disallow “comparing Jewish people and rats, claiming that Jewish people run the world or control major institutions … or denying or distorting information about the Holocaust.”

Given the myriad forms antisemitism can take, it’s unclear why Facebook settled on those three rules. Asked about that, its response to CCDH’s criticism, and whether Facebook is taking steps to reduce antisemitic content, including adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, a Facebook company spokesperson emailed:

“While we have made progress in fighting antisemitism on Facebook, our work is never done. These reports do not account for the fact that the prevalence of hate speech is decreasing on our platform, we have taken action on 15 times the amount of hate speech since 2017, and of the hate speech we remove, 97% was found before someone reported it to us.”

There clearly needs to be more progress. Yet, the most direct route forward would be through one recommendation curiously missing from CCDH’s report: urging social media companies to adopt the IHRA definition. Nobody can effectively combat antisemitism online without first clearly defining it.

The spring surge in open antisemitism on the country’s streets underscored why all of this matters. Lies about Jews encourage, and are used to justify, violent attacks. What happens online won’t stay online.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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