BBC failed to act on ‘hate’ comments on its social media channels

Remarks in Arabic praising terrorism and denying the Holocaust were allowed to remain on its pages


Members of the Zaka organization remove a body at the scene at the scene of a shooting attack in Bnei Brak, March 29, 2022. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** בני ברק פיגוע משטרה כוחות הצלה מדא זקא גופה הרוגים פצועים טרור מחבלים

The BBC has admitted that hundreds of viewer comments in Arabic that praised terrorism and either denied or downplayed the Holocaust were allowed to remain on its social media pages unmoderated over the last five months, breaking its own guidelines.

The broadcaster regularly shares its Arabic language content on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, posting them on pages and channels it administers. Since March, the BBC made 27 social media posts relating to the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists, and several others relating to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assertion that Hitler had Jewish ancestry.

The watchdog organisation CAMERA Arabic translated hundreds of viewers’ and readers’ responses left on the British broadcaster’s social media pages, revealing a barrage of antisemitic and pro-terror comments that were left unmoderated until challenged by the JC this week.

Following the March terror attack in Bnei Brak, in which 26-year-old Palestinian Diaa Hamarsheh killed five people, the BBC posted a “trending” video that prompted viewers on YouTube to comment, calling the attack “excellent work of self defence” carried out by “martyrs”. Other comments declared “killing Jews is one of the most desirable offerings for Allah” and “Our martyrs are in heaven and their dead are in hell”. Another wrote: “If these heroes continue with an operation even once a week, there will not be a virus called ‘the Jews of Israel’ left anymore.”

A BBC report posted to its Arabic Facebook page on 22 March after four people were killed and two injured in a stabbing and vehicle-ramming attack in Beersheba prompted similar reactions. One comment called it “wonderful news” while another complained “we all want more but four are better than nothing. May Allah increase the number of their dead.” Another comment urged “Allah, increase the number of their dead, Allah, Allah, hasten their end with Allah’s will” while a separate user wrote that the terrorist was now “in the highest of heavens”. The BBC allowed these comments to remain unmoderated on their Facebook page until earlier this week when the JC challenged them.

The BBC’s internal guidelines regulating its social media use say that “audiences will expect BBC run spaces on third-party platforms to reflect similar values to our on platform activity” adding that “we should not rely entirely on the platforms themselves to manage communities on BBC spaces. We need to take overall responsibility.” Among the precautions the guidelines suggest are “turning off comments” for posts likely to provoke offensive or illegal responses.
The guidelines say that in the “comment and conversation” prompted by its content on BBC social media channels, it should “accommodate the widest possible range of opinions consistent with our duty of care, appropriate language and behaviour, and the law.”

Though the broadcaster says it deleted and hid thousands of comments and banned hundreds of accounts during the past five months using automatic profanity filters at the highest level of strictness, CAMERA highlighted hundreds of comments praising the killing of Jewish civilians that remained unmoderated across multiple BBC social media accounts.

Following the wave of terrorist attacks in Israel earlier this year, comments hosted on the BBC’s accounts said “killing the occupier is a religious obligation” and another “our Lord destroys the Jews”. After one attack, a BBC viewer wrote “five corpses dropped dead, their existence was damaging planet Earth” while others added, “We are the righteous and you are the null and void, sons of apes and pigs” and “excellent, no Israeli should enjoy safety, they must live in constant horror and fear.”

After Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last month suggested Hitler had Jewish ancestry, BBC Arabic published a ‘trending’ video on the subject on its YouTube account. This prompted antisemitic Arabic comments from viewers which the BBC failed to remove from its channel for several weeks, many of which distorted or denied the Holocaust, or called for a further Holocaust: “The next Holocaust will be in Palestine, bigger and more total with Allah’s help,” declared one angry user; a sentiment echoed by another who wrote, “The real Holocaust has not happened yet, it will soon with Allah almighty’s will.” A third added that “the lie of the Holocaust is the excuse used to create the usurper Zionist entity on Palestine’s land”.

A leading academic who researches online antisemitism and anti-Muslim prejudice described the barrage of antisemitic, pro-terrorist and Holocaust distorting comments hosted on the BBC’s social media accounts as “clear breaches of the anti-terror legislation.”

Prof Lesley Klaff from Sheffield Hallam University told the JC some of the comments “could be classed as incitement”, adding “there were breaches of the law and I was just surprised that they hadn’t been moderated and that they’d been left on the site. Because those comments are on these social media platforms it gives a message that it’s acceptable discourse and that it’s an acceptable narrative to call for the murder of Jews or to deny the Holocaust.”

When challenged by the JC, the BBC conceded the comments were “offensive and inappropriate” and removed all user comments including those praising terrorism. However, the broadcaster cannot alter replies left on Twitter, where many remain. Twitter has removed some of the offending posts after the JC contacted the company.

Despite suggesting the option in its own guidelines, at the time of going to press, the BBC had not committed to switching off the comments function on future posts about Israeli civilian deaths or Holocaust distortions to prevent antisemitic, pro-terrorist or Holocaust-denying comments on its accounts. A BBC spokesperson said “BBC News Arabic is committed to upholding BBC guidelines on managing social media accounts and comments left under third-party platforms. We have millions of followers on social media and receive a huge number of comments daily. We manually moderate comments regularly and block individuals who repeatedly abuse these platforms. These offensive and inappropriate comments have been deleted.”

A Twitter spokesperson said: “Antisemitism has no place on Twitter. We have removed the majority of the tweets referenced for violations of our Hateful Conduct policy and Glorification of Violence policy. We will continue to take action when we identify any Tweets or accounts that violate the Twitter rules.”

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