September 22, 2022 by Andre Oboler
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Last week, members of parliament from around the world and a select group of experts gathered at the Capitol in Washington DC for a summit on online antisemitism.
I attended the summit along with Alex Ryvchin, co-CEO of the ECAJ.
The invite only event, organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Taskforce for Combating Online Antisemitism, including a working lunch hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a reception hosted by the ADL, and formal hearings in Congress where government envoys for combating antisemitism, including Amb. Deborah Lipstadt (USA), Noa Tishby (Israel), and Irwin Cotler (Canada) testified. They were followed by representatives of Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok who testified and answered questions from the elected representatives.
The formal hearings were broadcast on C-SPAN and provide important insight into what is being done, and what isn’t, when it comes to tackling online antisemitism. The major take out is that if technology platforms continue to be unable to self-regulate effectively, a whole new system of auditability backed by government sanctions is likely on the cards at some point in the future.
In the hearing New Zealand’s Simon O’Connor MP tackled the platforms on the gap between what they say they are doing and the perception of the public. He told the representatives of the platforms, “For a lot of New Zealanders, and especially for myself, what you’ve been sharing about your filters and platforms, what you are able to achieve in moderation does not reconcile with what we continue to see “. He took aim at Twitter highlighting the fact that they allowed antisemitic tweets from those in power in Iran. He praised YouTube as an excellent platform, but said, “the recommendations tend to take people down whopping big rabbit holes, particularly in the antisemitism area.” He also raised concern about the spread of antisemitism on social media by some members of the New Zealand parliament.
Anthony Housefather MP from Canada explained, “There’s absolutely no way for anyone to know the amount of antisemitism on your platforms as none of your transparency reports break down the categories of hate”. He went on to ask the platforms if they would share their data so it could be properly audited by independent experts. Facebook took the question on notice. Twitter claimed the data from their platform is all available through their API, which dodged part of the question about transparency in relation to reporting. TikTok highlighted that they had recently announced access to all their data via an API to select researchers. YouTube stressed that university researchers could gain access to their APIs, which excluded civil society.
Many of the members of parliament highlighted the importance of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The tech platforms in reply spoke of their work commemorating Yom HaShoah. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz took them to task on this saying that, “each of you in some way mentioned your pride in acknowledging Yom HaShoah, and other specific Jewish holidays and, frankly, so often that comes off as pandering, mentioning those kinds of acknowledgments as being somehow emblematic of how seriously you take the concerns of the Jewish community. Antisemitism is a viral toxic infection that drives real world violence, and for you to only scratch the surface or to pander and use examples, like some of your best friends are Jews, is insulting and frustrating.”
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz ended the hearing saying noting that President Biden had called the day before for ending the special immunity enjoyed by Technology platforms. She explained, “Enforcement is the key. Your enforcement, to prevent our enforcement. Your policies cannot allow hate speech and violent rhetoric to flourish on your sites.”
Dr. Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and a member of the Australian Government’s Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.