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Jewish advocates pressure social media platforms, Congress to regulate online anti-Semitic speech


Jewish advocates on Wednesday called on social media companies and Congress to take more steps to regulate online anti-Semitic speech after the number of anti-Semitic incidents has increased in the past year. 

Jewish representatives spoke during a congressional hearing to highlight the efforts the federal government can take to combat anti-Semitism and domestic terrorism in the wake of several attacks against the Jewish community, from the shooting in Pittsburgh last year to the stabbing in Monsey, N.Y. last month. 

“This is not the time for thoughts and prayers,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said. “We need resources and actions.”

Several representatives, including Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), brought up concerns that online anti-Semitic posts have inspired attacks in the U.S.

“The distinction between the real world and the virtual world is blurry. Anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet can and does inspire actual deadly attacks,” Clarke said before asking the advocates how social media companies have done so far and what Congress can do.

Greenblatt told representatives that Congress should push for the Online Safety Modernization Act to protect users from hate speech online, pressure the companies to enforce their terms of service to hold users accountable for hate speech, and advocate for independent third-party audits on those companies.

“It’s long overdue for the social media companies to step up and shut down the neo-Nazis on their platforms,” he added. “Companies like Twitter and Facebook need to apply the same energy to protecting vulnerable users that they apply to protecting their corporate profits.

“If they won’t answer the problem, you probably need to,” he added. 

The CEO acknowledged that social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have implemented more regulations, but haven’t done “nearly enough.”

Nathan Diament, the executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the country, mentioned how artificial intelligence has been used to flag and take down content related to sex trafficking, and could be used to fight anti-Semitism, as well. 

“There’s no reason why that AI technology can’t also be utilized in combating anti-Semitism and racism and the other kinds of pernicious things that we’re trying to oppose,” he told the subcommittee.

Gen. John Allen, president of The Brookings Institution, an American research group, told the representatives that regulating terrorists on the “cyber domain” is essential, but the country cannot rely exclusively on the social media companies to do that because “they’re all technicians.”

“Unless we can generate the kinds of controls and legislation and policy necessary to gain control of the cyber domain, just as we have for the physical domain, we will still be scratching our heads,” he said. 

The Hill reached out to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Google for comment. Reddit declined to comment.

YouTube, owned by Google, has reported that videos are being removed and channels are being terminated at a rate of five times more than previously, a spokesperson told The Hill. The platform prioritizes “removing violative content, raising up authoritative content, reducing the disbursement of borderline content and rewarding trusted creators.”

At the hearing, Jewish advocates also promoted the introduced Never Again Holocaust Education Act requiring Holocaust education in schools, increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and improved recording of hate crimes by law enforcement agencies across the country. 

Concerns about anti-Semitism attacks have risen in the past year after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 people dead in October 2018. In recent weeks, attacks and incidents in the New Jersey and New York area have left Jewish advocates calling for emergency increased security funding to protect their communities. 

Facebook announced last week that it plans to maintain its policy that permits misinformation in political ads on its platform, prompting outrage from Democratic lawmakers. Twitter outright banned political ads in an announcement last year, and Google has decided to prohibit advertisers from microtargeting their political messaging.

Updated Jan. 16 at 11:28 a.m.

Tags Anti-Defamation League anti-semitism Facebook Google Hate speech Judaism Reddit Social media Twitter Yvette Clarke
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