The New Year begins with news that Facebook has at long last removed the notorious "Jewish Ritual Murder" page from its site.
There is nothing to welcome or applaud in this scandalously late decision. The fact remains that year in, year out, Facebook, that symbol of global modernity, refused point-blank to remove a page that was literally dedicated to one of the oldest and most disgusting anti-Jewish hatreds of all: the medieval accusation that Jews kill non-Jews in order to use their blood and body organs for religious purpose.
As an example of hatred, old and new, it was hard to beat.
CST, the Anti-Defamation League and many others have repeatedly demanded the page’s removal, which made a mockery of Facebook’s “community values”.
Now, the page has finally been removed, following a research project by American “non-profit newsroom” ProPublica, in which Facebook was asked to explain the continuing presence of 49 hateful and offensive pages upon its site.
In regard to the "Jewish Ritual Murder" page, the ProPublica report states: "The company categorized its original decision – to leave the page up – as a mistake. It was removed after ProPublica asked for an explanation".
The introduction to the ProPublica report implies that Facebook’s “content reviewers” were to blame for inconsistencies in what is allowed or deleted on the site. This was repeated in The Times coverage which spoke of “moderators” and the need for better training, saying: "Facebook is failing to enforce its hate-speech policies and has admitted that moderators made the wrong calls in almost half the cases flagged in an investigation".
Call them what you will, there is no doubt that Facebook’s content reviewers or moderators do need better training and they do need to be more consistent, but let us be very clear that CST, the Anti-Defamation League and others have fruitlessly discussed the "Jewish Ritual Murder" page ad nauseum with senior Facebook officials for years. Occasionally, the outcomes became public, such as in February 2014 when a Facebook spokesperson told the Jewish Chronicle: "We have long believed that simply removing such content from Facebook will not help to overcome ignorance. While this tests us all, having the freedom to debate serious issues like this is how we fight prejudice."
The hectoring tone, telling Jews that keeping medieval Jew-hatred on-line “is how we fight prejudice” is entirely typical of how Facebook approached such things four years ago. My abiding memory of this period is of an anti-hate crime conference in which a senior Facebook official said that the best response to Holocaust denial on Facebook was for Holocaust survivors to join in and argue back! I strongly intervened, saying that this typified their utter ignorance of hate crime, extremism and its impact upon victims.
That is how Facebook used to be. It is not how Facebook now is. Patronising disdain and the free-speech parrot routine have gone. The platform now employs proper experts on hate and radicalism and is trying to be seen as a force for good. It is easy to say that much of this shift is propelled by reputational and legal concerns, but the fact remains that Facebook is a huge organisation that is, however belatedly and for whatever reasons, deliberately turning itself around on these issues.
At CST, our relationship with Facebook is largely positive. We have seen at first hand just how far the company has travelled, especially in the last year, but the company’s removal of the "Jewish Ritual Murder" page merely brings it to the barest minimum standard that ought to be expected of anyone.
Mark Gardner is the communications director of the Community Security Trust