Jewish entities worldwide institute 48-hour freeze on Twitter over hate speech

July 28, 2020 by  
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International Jewish groups are joining in a 48-hour abstention from Twitter in solidarity with Jews in the United Kingdom after British rap star Wiley, who has hundreds of thousands of followers, went on an hours-long social-media rant against Jews.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Kingdom and the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. speaks at a Holocaust Memorial Day event on Jan. 23, 2018. Credit: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For too long, social media has been a safe space for those who peddle hatred and prejudice. Free speech is an essential cornerstone of any civilized society, but when it is used to incite hatred and violence against others, social-media companies have a responsibility to act and must do so without delay,” said the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis, in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “ … Your inaction amounts to complicity.”

The boycott began on Monday at 9 a.m. London time with supporters using the hashtag #Nosafeplaceforjewhate.

Among the entities participating in the freeze are the American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Leadership Council of the United Kingdom and the Holocaust Educational Trust in the United Kingdom.

In Australia Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue, The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, WIZO, The Online Hate Prevention Institute, The Jewish Community Council of Victoria have joined the Twitter switchoff with New Zealand’s Israel Institute of New Zealand and the Zionist Federation of New Zealand doing likewise.

British rapper Wiley, whose real name is Richard Kylea Cowie Jr., began his anti-Semitic rant on Friday. Among his posts were: “Zionists suck ya mum” and “Jewish people you make me sick and I will not budge hold this corn.”

On Twitter, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism stated that the term “hold corn” is “slang for ‘take bullets.’ We consider this incitement to racial hatred.” They added that they reported him to the Metropolitan Police and asked that his account be suspended.

Twitter has removed some of Wiley’s comments, though his account appears to be active.

“We in the Jewish community were appalled to see Wiley’s anti-Jewish racist rant carry on for hour after hour with absolutely no intervention from Twitter or Instagram at all,” said Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “We are calling on all social media platforms to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by dozens of countries worldwide defines anti-Semitism as a “certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The Board of Deputies is also calling for the United Kingdom to rescind Wiley’s title as an MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire, which is awarded to someone who makes a positive difference in their community.

Hashtag being used to promote other agendas

The measure comes amid growing concern over anti-Semitism on social-media platforms.

As a result, some are also calling out other platforms, including Instagram and its parent company, Facebook. Indeed, Mirvis sent a nearly identical letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Gilad Erdan, the permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations and incoming ambassador of Israel to the United States, posted online: “Twitter has failed to take serious steps to combat anti-Semitism on its platform. … People around the world are staging a 48-hour walkout to demand action. I will join them.”

According to Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs Israel, “Twitter has been and should be a powerful force for good in our world. It can give voice to the voiceless, help bring democracy to those in dictatorships and amplify ideas that unite us. Instead, Twitter has allowed anti-Semitic statements, calls for violence against Jews, and ‘dog-whistle’ anti-Semitism to fester and spread.

“This is about much more than one individual’s hateful rants,” he continued. “Anti-Semitism is not a second-class form of racism; it is to be taken seriously and acted against. Anti-Semitism is deadly.”

While the effort is underway, a number of posters have used the hashtag to promote other agendas.

Some have used it to put forth their belief that “anti-Zionism” is legitimate and should not be confused with “anti-Semitism,” and that Israel is a “colonizing state.” Others questioned why anyone would go silent for 48 hours now when they haven’t done so for other groups.

Even those who support the premise behind the social-media freeze ponder its effectiveness. Some posters said they are going to remain active and use those two days to educate others as to what anti-Semitism really means, while others indicated they will post only “Jewish” things for the next 48 hours.

AIJAC wrote: “This global grassroots campaign seeks to expose the unimpeded rise of antisemitism on Twitter. Supporters of the campaign are urging Twitter to take action against antisemitism, specifically to enforce its own user regulations. Prominent politicians, celebrities, religious leaders and non-government organisations from around the world have all joined the campaign. Among those expressing support are UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, the UK Labour Party and the UK Liberal Democrats, the American Jewish Committee and its executive director David Harris, and chair of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog.

The #nospaceforjewhate campaign is a response to the increasing number of celebrities, public figures and other Twitter users, who have shared antisemitic remarks. This week, British rapper Wiley was dropped by his management and is being investigated by police, over an antisemitic tirade he posted on Twitter to his 500,000 followers. Twitter was slow to respond, removing only some of the hate speech and failing to suspend or ban Wiley for the comments.

The case with Wiley is not the first time Twitter has failed to act to remove the content or sanction those who circulate antisemitism. Twitter’s failure to act has become more acute during the coronavirus pandemic, and also in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, where both issues have been used by haters to spread antisemitism, including using Twitter to blame Jews for spreading coronavirus and falsely accusing the Israeli military of teaching American police the brutal methods that led to the death of Black American George Floyd.

“Social media is a driver of antisemitic hate. It is incumbent on all of us to urge Twitter to prevent its platform being used to spread anti-Jewish hate,” Dr Colin Rubenstein, AIJAC executive director, said.

“We know that many of the individuals who have committed violent hate crimes in recent years have been radicalised on social media. Antisemitism on Twitter is dangerous and Twitter’s failure to deal with this growing problem could put lives at risk.”

“AIJAC is supporting the #nospaceforjewhate to encourage social media companies, especially Twitter, to do more to prevent the proliferation of hate speech.”

The Online Hate Prevention Institute’s CEO academic at La Trobe University Dr Anre Oboler stated, “While the US-led boycott of Facebook is wrong, we support the 48-hour boycott of Twitter initiated in the UK. Facebook has been getting better and faster at tackling hate as well as introducing new governance arrangements that make them more accountable. At the same time, Twitter has gone backwards. In December 2017 Twitter was removing 45.7% of hate speech reported to it, by December 2019 that had dropped to 35.9%. Facebook’s removals of hate speech  in the same tests and over the same period rose from 79.8% to 87.6%. The per cent of reports addressed within 24 hours for Twitter dropped from a peak of about 88.3% in December 2018, down to 76.6% in December 2019. Facebook’s 24 hour responses grew from 92.6% in December 2018 to 95.7% in December 2019. The boycott of Facebook is misguided. The boycott of Twitter is on target and we encourage people to join.”

JNS with J-Wire

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