Dr Mike Evans

Herzog urges new battle to combat online antisemitism

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke out against online antisemitism during a talk at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism conference in Sweden last week. Herzog called the antisemitic messages “a force of destruction,” and urged social media platforms to improve their response to the hateful communications.

“Antisemitism is an infusion of hate into pockets of ignorance, a force of destruction which wears down any virtue in its path,” Herzog said. “It will require not only improving Holocaust education in schools, such as the outstanding program of Yad Vashem, but also working aggressively on social media, including with and confronting social media companies to ensure that hateful incitement is quickly removed,” the president added.

The renewed focus on antisemitic speech and actions online comes at a time when social media giants like Facebook and Twitter face new calls for accountability. A recent Facebook whistleblower, for example, testified before American lawmakers, making the case that the provider places profits before people in harmful ways.

The Jerusalem Prayer Team has been deeply involved in the battle of online antisemitism. In May, Facebook shut down the Prayer Team’s page after it was flooded by myriad antisemitic comments for three consecutive days during the 11-day Gaza War. The ultimately failed shutdown was triggered by a concerted campaign that aimed at overwhelming Facebook’s control logarithms.

Despite appeals to restore the page, it was down for three months. Upon its return, the page’s numbers were cut from 77 million to 30 million followers, as Facebook cut off all likes from certain nations. These actions took place despite the social media company approving the ads reaching the large audience and taking the advertising dollars.

The case is one of many examples, but is especially notable as it is the largest pro-Israel Facebook page worldwide, as well as the largest religious Facebook page.

Calls for reform have come from a wide variety of sources across the political spectrum, both regarding antisemitism and other concerns. Most recently, Facebook has been reported on concerning its political influence, as the company was said to invest more than $400 million in various non-profits ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

Others have expressed concern over the platform’s censorship of conservative views. While the removal of former US president Donald Trump was the most notable example, many conservatives have reportedly been censored across the platform.