Online is the new frontline in the fight against antisemitism

The government must act to impose serious measures on social media company, writes the president of the Board of Deputies

August 24, 2020 15:24

Last week the Board of Deputies was part of a communal delegation to meet Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to discuss online antisemitism and racism, particularly in the wake of Wiley’s extended antisemitic rant.

We all know that this was not an isolated incident. According to the Community Security Trust’s figures, 39% of antisemitic incidents recorded in 2019 occurred online, with that number rising to 43.6% of incidents in the first six months of this year.

In short, this means that online is the new frontline in the fight against antisemitism.

Through the package around its upcoming Online Harms Bill, due to reach Parliament this Autumn, the government has an unparalleled opportunity to act.

We believe that there are three things that the government must include in this framework to protect our community from the scourge of online hatred.

First, we – alongside a growing coalition of grassroots and international Jewish organisations – want all social media companies to be required to adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, with all its examples.

Too often, when one makes a complaint about horrendous antisemitism to one of these companies, the response back is that, “This does not violate our community standards”.

When we saw this kind of quibbling over what constitutes antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party, our community was clear that there was an agreed definition that should be used.  

So far, social media companies have been reluctant to do this of their own accord, which is why we believe the Government needs to act, appointing a new regulator that will adopt IHRA and judge the companies’ protection of Jewish users against that standard.

The government has led the way on IHRA, adopting it for the country and warning local authorities and universities that they will face financial penalties for not doing so. We now need government to take the same muscular approach online.   

Secondly, we think social media companies should be required to appoint a minimum number of staff in the UK teams to moderate content that is harmful in the UK. We believe an in-country team monitoring suspected breaches of community guidelines will be more likely to have political, cultural and linguistic context for cases than a team based elsewhere. Additionally, we think it would likely improve accountability by the social media companies in question.

Those first two points, however, are relatively toothless if social media companies face no consequences for ignoring breaches of their own guidelines; something many of us have experienced personally. Which is why our final point is that there must be an adoption of a system of heavy fines for social media companies who fail to comply with the newly agreed standards. Sadly, it appears that only a threat to the bottom line will make these global corporations sit up and take notice.

For those of us, and our loved ones, who have experienced antisemitism online. It is high time for action. As we all said before our 48-hour walkout from social media a few weeks’ ago, we must leave #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate.

Marie van der Zyl is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews


August 24, 2020 15:24

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive