Editorial: A Nobler Use for Social Media

Oct. 19, 2020

The following is an editorial that ran in the National Post on Oct. 17, reprinted here with permission:

Properly used, social media can be a powerful educational tool

We live in an era of fake news and forgotten history. Social media is a breeding ground, or at least an amplifier, of the former. Tackling that challenge will be the work of years. But, properly used, social media can also be a powerful educational tool. And the first step in making it so will be at least adopting a do-no-harm policy. There was an overdue but welcome step in that direction this week.

Twitter and Facebook, the social media giants, both said that they will ban Holocaust denial on their platforms. This is long overdue. (Some important background on this can be found elsewhere in these pages, reprinted with permission from the Canadian Jewish Record.) Holocaust denial is not a matter of opinion or free speech, it is an overt form of anti-semitism, and it is right to treat it as such. It is perplexing, and alarming, to be blunt, that the social media giants needed this long to take action to deny the organized Nazi slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other “untermenschen” — racial and social undesirables. But having finally done the right thing, albeit belatedly, the companies deserve at least muted credit. They dawdled, but they did the right thing in the end.

The challenge, and opportunity, is now to find a way to leverage the power of these sites to teach the history, warts and all, that is the birthright of mankind. Historical illiteracy is a real and growing problem. It is not limited to the Holocaust, of course, but the problem there is particularly acute, and illustrative: a recent survey found astonishing levels of ignorance regarding the basic historical truth of the Holocaust among young American adults; comparable Canadian surveys reveal numbers that aren’t quite so appalling, but are certainly nothing to be proud of, either.

Education, of course, is essential, and the history education that Canadian students receive has long been known to be woefully inadequate. That can and must be fixed. But that shouldn’t just mean textbooks in classrooms (physical or virtual). The social media tools of today could do tremendous good if properly harnessed by institutions, scholars and living witnesses. Now that the giants have agreed to stop harming the cause, perhaps now they can be put to a nobler use.

Clamp Down on Hate Speech, Jewish Groups Urge Facebook

Aug. 31, 2020 – Canadian Jewish advocacy organizations are urging Facebook to clamp down on extremist activity and hate speech.

Some 145 Jewish and Zionist organizations around the world sent an open letter this month to the social media giant, urging it to “fully adopt” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as the “cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding antisemitism.”

Canadian signatories to the letter include B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and Students Supporting Israel.

The letter, sent to the company’s board of directors, noted that Facebook’s Director of Content Policy Stakeholder Engagement, Peter Stern, “recently attested to the usefulness of the IHRA working definition when Facebook first developed its hate speech policy.

“However, Mr. Stern admitted that Facebook does not have a policy aimed at combatting online anti-Semitism,” the letter alleged. “He further admitted that Facebook does not embrace the full adoption of the IHRA working definition because the definition recognizes that modern manifestations of antisemitism relate to Israel.”

Nearly 40 countries have already endorsed or adopted the IHRA working definition in some official capacity, either through their membership in the IHRA or independently, the letter noted.

Canada adopted the IHRA wording last year as part of an anti-racism policy. So have several Canadian cities, while others have either shelved or withdrawn efforts at adoption amid accusations that it would stifle criticism of Israel.

The letter came amid growing concern from Jewish groups worldwide that Facebook is allowing Holocaust deniers room to expresstheir views.

Today’s antisemitism “undoubtedly includes the delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist,” the letter goes on. “This bigotry is expressed in various ways, such as the rejection of Jewish self-determination, Holocaust revisionism and denial, and the application of double standards toward the Jewish state and people.”

Adopting the IHRA definition would provide Facebook “an effective, neutral, and nuanced tool to protect Jewish users from hate speech and imagery that incites hate and oftentimes leads to violence,” the letter argues. “While the impact of online hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation on our society continues to be researched and explored, we cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

Editorial: Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Care About Holocaust Denial

Aug. 6, 2020 – No less a thinker than Homer Simpson once pronounced: “It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I don’t care.” It is difficult not to consider these words when confronted by the actions of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

Facebook is arguably the most important social media platform of our time – maybe the most influential information outlet of all time. It has brought together old friends and lost relatives; it has allowed for the continuation of friendships around the world; it has spawned groups dealing with everything from recipes to physics. But Facebook also has a dark side, which prompts our thoughts today.

In years past, in order for hate groups, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Holocaust deniers to spread their vile messages, they were mostly forced to stand on busy street corners, handing out their abhorrent messages. If two people walked away with a leaflet, it was considered a good day.

In 2020, all that is required for hatred to seep into our communities is a laptop and internet hookup. Consider numbers that would make legacy media hyperventilate: Worldwide, there are over 2.7 billion monthly active users of Facebook, and 1.8 billion people on average log onto the site every day – a 12 percent increase over just a year ago.

Facebook has been confronted often with requests to take more corporate responsibility by guarding against its use, or misuse, by hatemongers. From time to time, some individuals have been deplatformed. Sadly, the numbers are few and the will from Facebook seems weak.

For the Jewish community, the focus is on the numerous Holocaust deniers who use Facebook as their vehicle of choice to spread their poison. Those of a certain age might remember Toronto-based Ernst Zundel, who was once the largest purveyor of Holocaust denial material in the world. He would salivate today at how Facebook could distribute his lies.

It may seem unbelievable, but Facebook has consistently refused to recognize Holocaust denial as a violation of its “community standards.” Indeed, consider the opening statement of the site’s terms of reference for its standards when it comes to hate speech:

“We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Zuckerberg explained in a 2018 interview: “I don’t believe that our platform should take that [Holocaust denial] down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” notably adding, “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong…”

News flash for Mark Zuckerberg (who was raised in a Jewish home): Holocaust denial is not just getting historical facts “wrong,” it’s intentional all right, and the most contemptible form of Jew-hatred imaginable.

In recent weeks the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, has begun a campaign dubbed #NoDenyingIt!

It’s an online campaign “to ensure the voices of Holocaust survivors are heard by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and that is: ‘Holocaust denial posts on Facebook must be removed!’ As one survivor put it, ‘They are calling us liars. We are witnesses,’” the Claims Conference stated.

Holocaust survivors have been sending short videos every day to Zuckerberg demanding he stop this hatred. It’s horrible that in the dusk of their lives, these elderly men and women must ask Facebook to do the right thing. It’s time for Zuckerberg to stop doing a Homer Simpson and to show he understands – and cares.

Antisemitic Content on TikTok: The Clock is Ticking

By MARA BOSLOY

As a card-carrying millennial, I joined TikTok at the beginning of quarantine in March only to alleviate boredom (the social media app was used mainly by Gen Zs before quarantine). Once there, the algorithm eventually led me to Jewish TikTok. This means that a lot of the content that comes up on my feed is Jewish, which I enjoy.

Jewish content on TikTok could be anything from someone posting about their love of bagels and lox, to Jewish celebrities, to old bar/bat-mitzvah photos, to posting a funny story that happened at shul, and so forth.

I was initially shocked, although I shouldn’t have been, to find so many antisemitic comments and so much antisemitic content under various Jewish hashtags. A recurring theme that seems to exist on TikTok is that Jews will post Jewish content (not related to Israel) and immediately, antisemites will step in with comments like “Free Palestine,” “Israel doesn’t exist,” or, most simply, the Palestine flag emoji by itself.

This is where the problem begins. This is why Jews constantly point out that anti-Zionism doesn’t always equal antisemitism, but a lot of the time, it does. Antisemites constantly conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It doesn’t matter to them that Diaspora Jews have nothing to do with the politics of Israel (or even necessarily agree with Israel). What matters to them is that they virtually weaponize themselves against any proud Jew posting on TikTok because, like a red cloth to a bull, they charge at sometimes even the hypothetical sight of Israel’s flag.

A Diaspora Jew who has never been to Israel and posts about the brisket their Bubbie made for Shabbat will get “Free Palestine” comments on their posts.

This is not even to mention all the solely antisemitic comments and posts, without reference to Palestine or Israel to be found on the app. This includes Shylockian stereotypes, and Holocaust denial/”humour.” This is also deeply troubling to young Jews wishing to scroll through wholesome Jewish content and instead finding a gas chamber “joke” because the user has used #Jewish, or related hashtags.

Because this app is dominated by people in their early 20s and below, they are largely influenced by their peers on how to think and what to think. It has gotten to the point where young people (including millennials)  wake up, check their phone for notifications on social media, and read up on the news that has been posted on social media, instead of checking a legitimate news source. This means that the clutter of short videos posted on TikTok provide instant information (whether the information is factual or not) for young people, without them needing to check references.

Non-Jewish teenagers will see a popular account posting antisemitic content, such as @the.juc, who has spoken about how all Jews are “white nationalists” and “colonizers.” Viral TikToks cause a mob mentality to form; if so many people engage in and enjoy the content, why shouldn’t one more person do the same?

Big account followings (or at the very least, an account with a lot of “likes”) tend to make young people feel that since those people have the platform, they must have the intellect to follow (which is damaging and untrue, as accounts can buy “likes”). These kinds of posts further promote antisemitism among young people. It is scary to think about how young people will grow up with easy access to antisemitism on a mindless app, absorbing the information and potentially digesting it as legitimate/news/facts.

Young Jews should not be made to feel uncomfortable on an app that is simply meant for passing the time. 

I am scared that we are going backwards with antisemitism and young people, and that the lack of education and surplus of quick views and likes will be ultimately quite damaging.


Mara Bosloy

Mara Bosloy is a publishing and editing professional currently working at a leading Canadian educational publisher.