By Emily Schrader
Last week Twitter made international headlines for its statements in the Knesset when questioned about its hate speech policies. The platform’s representative, Ylwa Pettersson, stated that while Trump’s tweets violate its standards for glorifying violence, the ayatollah’s calls for genocide do not.
Additionally, when I asked Twitter in the committee meeting why it doesn’t prohibit Holocaust denial, it confirmed that Holocaust denial is permissible on its platform as long as it’s not “targeted” at Jews.
While these responses were surely stunning to those of us in the committee – and apparently to the international press – it is a testament to the true state of affairs when it comes to understanding modern antisemitism. It is for precisely this reason that all social media platforms should be adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism and using it as an educational tool rather than for censorship.
When looking at antisemitism today, five major manifestations appear on social media – calls to violence, Holocaust denial, antisemitic conspiracies, antisemitic tropes, and use of Israel or Zionism as replacement words for hateful comments toward Jews or Judaism.
Setting aside the issue of enforcement
, all the major networks (Facebook, Google, TikTok, Twitter) define calls to violence against Jews as a violation of their terms. But it gets much more complicated when it comes to the other forms of antisemitism, with Twitter falling far behind the others in adequately coping with antisemitic hate speech on its platform. For this reason, Twitter has become a hotbed of hate, and its executives and representatives just can’t seem to comprehend why.
Google leads the field in fighting antisemitism with specific terms that cover antisemitic conspiracies and tropes, as well as Holocaust denial, demonization of groups based on ideas (i.e., “Zionists are baby killers”), and of course calls to violence. Facebook and TikTok have definitions that could be applied to forms of antisemitism, depending on context, but Twitter does not even have that. Even worse, Twitter has a well-documented pattern of double standards with antisemitic speech. Only last week, it removed neo-Nazi and KKK leader David Duke from its platform, where he has been freely spouting his hate speech for 11 years, but Louis Farrakhan, despite his vile tweets about Jews (and calling Jews “termites”), is still using the platform with impunity – much like the ayatollah of Iran.
This month, Twitter’s colossal failure sparked uproar when British rapper Wiley went on an appalling antisemitic rant – a trend that seems to be occurring with increasing frequency on social media. Celebrities, artists, politicians and the Jewish community fought back by staging a 48-hour “walkout” of Twitter in response to its failure to deal with the hate speech. Days later, Wiley was finally banned from Twitter. But banning alone won’t solve the ugliness in the hearts of antisemites – that will require education and conversation.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism addresses all the aforementioned forms of antisemitism, but it doesn’t call for banning or removing hate speech – it calls for acknowledgment.
This is the model that should be adopted. Should social media networks finally get serious about implementing IHRA, they can flag antisemitic content with a warning that, according to the consensus of the Jewish community, this content would be considered antisemitic. Additionally, they can provide and attach resources to the content in question so viewers can read more about antisemitism today, and why we, as Jews, believe the content is problematic. This is a vastly superior approach to removing posts or accounts, because it not only helps educate users who are knowingly or unknowingly buying into antisemitic tropes or conspiracies, but it also allows us to track and monitor antisemitic sentiment – all while respecting free speech.
Perhaps even more importantly, working with social media networks to monitor and define antisemitism according to the IHRA framework helps to educate the employees of the networks themselves. Imagine how different Pettersson’s response would have been in that Knesset committee meeting had she had a proper education in antisemitism, which she clearly did not receive in her home country of Sweden. And she’s the head of policy for Twitter for Israel and the Nordic states – a testament to how severe this problem is today.
Censorship will not lead to a better world or more tolerant communities. Social media platforms should adopt IHRA today, and use it as an educational tool to reduce antisemitism and build trust with the Jewish community that has been so severely damaged by the lack of action on the part of these digital platforms.