NARRATOR: What action can we take against online anti-Semitism? One. Define exactly what anti-Semitism is. This is precisely what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, did in creating the working definition of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions, and religious facilities.
The IHRA working definition provides a general definition of anti-Semitism and then sets forth 11 concrete examples that could, taking into account the overall context, represent anti-Semitic acts and statements. These examples are important guidelines that help us identify anti-Semitism when we come across it online as well as offline.
Two. Demand and practice accountability. Technology is neither good nor bad. It’s not the internet that is the problem. It’s the people who misuse it. We encourage technology companies to ensure their terms of service prohibit discourse on their platforms that meets the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to promptly flag content which violates those terms. And when online hate speech crosses the line into incitement to violence or harassment that violates the law, technology companies should remove that content and hold such users accountable.
Governments should hold accountable those who use online platforms to unlawfully threaten, intimidate, or incite violence, as well as the platforms that knowingly allow illegal conduct. Users must hold themselves accountable. Each of us is responsible for our online behavior and the content we share.
Three. Form coalitions against online anti-Semitism. Hatred can spread very quickly, making environments toxic, poisoning entire societies, and undermining democracies. It’s everybody’s problem. We need to create coalitions of conscience among the private sectors, ethnic and racial groups, religious groups, as well as other communities, so we can better work together to counter hate speech of any form.
By defining the problem, demanding accountability, and forming coalitions against hate speech, we can take action against anti-Semitism online and offline, help prevent violent hate crimes like the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad of Poway in California, and make our world a better place.
Fighting anti-Semitism in one, two, three.
ASSISTANT SPECIAL ENVOY ELLIE COHANIM: We have covered a lot of territory together over the last two days. Our thanks go to the many world leaders, distinguished speakers, and panelists, for providing their expertise, insights, and recommendations for the future. Let me suggest that in the end, we’re all in this together in the fight against anti-Semitism.
In this, our final session, we will be hearing from Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, who will offer a global view on the necessity for shared goals. And from there, we will complete the circle, returning to where we started, with closing remarks by Elan Carr, the U.S Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. I’m Ellie Cohanim, Assistant Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and I thank you for joining us.
DR. AHMED SHAHEED: Ladies and gentlemen, greetings to you all. My sincere thanks to the State Department for inviting me to join you in discussing efforts to tackle the urgent challenges posed by online anti-Semitism. One year ago, I presented my report to the UN General Assembly on the global phenomenon of anti-Semitism and its impact on the right to freedom of religion or belief of Jewish persons worldwide, the first UN report dedicated to examining this issue.
My report noted that the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes and the risk of violence against Jewish individuals appear to be significant everywhere, including in countries where little or no Jewish population exist. This virulent hate has created a climate of fear, impairing the right of Jews to manifest their religion or belief, and if left unchecked by governments poses risks not only to Jews, but also to members of other minority communities and society as a whole.
I emphasize that anti-Semitism is toxic to democracy and respect of citizens, and threatens all societies in which it goes unchallenged. It is a harbinger of societal instability and the erosion of solidarity. My report was meant to raise alarm among decision makers and other stakeholders, including digital media companies, about the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents, which appear to be increasing in magnitude in several countries, including online.
Effectively, anti-Semitic hate has risen alarmingly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public figures, including religious leaders and politicians, have spread sinister claims that Jews developed and deliberately spread the virus, or that its spread is a plot by the State of Israel. Those collecting data posit alarming rates of increase in anti-Semitic incidents, even though in many states anti-Semitic harassment, both online and offline, is significantly underreported.
The tropes and hate expressed online are historical, brutal, and multiplying. The pandemic has not created a new form of anti-Semitism, but revived existing prejudices and harmful stereotypes. One problem is that the online audience for the dissemination of messages that spread hostility and hatred is global and is growing in current times, as people spend more and more time online.
Hate groups, often existing as interconnected networks across the globe, use propaganda online to sow the seeds of suspicion, mistrust and intolerance. Over time, such hate can play an important role in convincing people that violence is logical, justifiable, and even necessary.
And thus it is no surprise that hate-laden advocacy online and offline is one of the most common warning signs of atrocity crimes, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. There is not a more graphic example than the Holocaust of how religious and racial hatred can lead to genocide.
Another problem is that online hate is extremely resilient and social media platforms may be losing the battle in content moderation. Human rights monitors consistently recommend that social media companies enforce terms of service and community rules that do not allow for the dissemination of fake messages, and offer user-friendly mechanisms and procedures for reporting and addressing hateful content.
At the same time, we know that the deep reform of extremists may not be very effective. Hate groups create replacements for the regular internet tools that we all use when they are banned from mainstream networks, as well as jumping between countries, continents, and languages. As all tech and the decentralized web grow, it will be less helpful to appeal to centralized authorities to do things like remove anti-Semitic manifesto files or take a person off of a social media site.
A third issue is that governments– and the concern exists with regard to private companies too– often exploit limits on what they call hate speech to threaten legitimate expression, such as political dissent, or religious disagreement. Digital media companies are often under pressure to comply with state laws that criminalize content that is said to be, for instance, blasphemous, critical of the state, [INAUDIBLE] of public officials, or false.
So what can we do? In a world in desperate need of tackling online anti-Semitism, international human rights law provides standards to govern the approaches of both states and private companies to online expression and the spread of hateful ideologies.
In the first instance, human rights protections in an offline context must also apply to online speech. There are narrowly defined exceptions for limiting speech, international law, and such limits must conform with the requirements of legality, legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality. The burden falls on the authority restricting speech to justify the restriction, not on the speaker to demonstrate their right.
A set of factors identified in the Rabat Plan of Action on what constitutes incitement under Article 20, Subclause 2 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for a contextual analysis, assessment of the speaker’s position in society, the content and form of the speech, identification of the degree of risk of harm, the intent behind the speech, and the reach of the speech act.
Additionally, equality and non-discrimination should be used as key principles in defining and understanding hate speech and incitement. Consistent with such standards, the UN Secretary-General’s action plan on hate speech recognizes that the goal can never be to prohibit freedom of expression. Rather, shared responsibility is to prevent hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence, which is prohibited under international law.
Private digital companies too should ensure that their hate speech and extremism rules reflect international human rights law and that such standards are enforced. The global nature of the rights and threat at stake make clear that companies cannot rely on the varying laws of states or their own private interests in determining content standards.
Taking a human rights approach requires the protection of all human rights online, including freedom of thought, opinion, and expression, and the rights to equality, non-discrimination, privacy, and remedy. With great power comes great responsibility. The effort made by companies must be commensurate with the challenges posed by the volume, speed, diversity, and danger of online hate.
To implement human rights standards while countering hate speech requires careful analysis. Companies must invest in training their content policy teams, general counsel, and especially content moderators in the field. There must always be a human in the loop for any automated system used for content moderation. And while largest social media companies are developing huge teams of content moderators to review flagged content, company disclosure about removal discussions, in aggregate, or in specific cases, is limited and should become more transparent and accountable.
Additionally, consistent with human rights principles of participation and equality, digital media should involve those communities who are most affected by the content identified as hate speech or anti-Semitism. Moreover, targeted communities should be involved in identifying the most effective tools to address harms caused on digital media platforms.
Allegedly, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, businesses should have ongoing processes to determine how hate speech affects human rights on their platforms. This should include human rights oriented product reviews, literate speech. Use of flags, for example, give individuals the ability to log complaints of inappropriate content with conduct moderators. But absent contextual [INAUDIBLE] analysis, the removal of speech and [INAUDIBLE] of the flags has been shown to suppress speech belonging to religious minorities, LGBT persons, and women, human rights defenders.
In my work at the University of Essex and as UN Special Rapporteur, I have advised that digital media company efforts against hate speech should include due diligence in the full lifecycle of technologies, from design, development, use, and evaluation. This does not mean creating models that allow for censorship. Rather, when designing products, companies should integrate human rights standards and principles at all stages from design, development, deployment, to remedy.
Protecting freedom of expression while countering incitement will be an ongoing process. Companies should regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their approaches to human rights harms and engage civil society and victims more effectively without overburdening such groups.
If the counter of hate speech is to be more speech, then more tools and protections need to be afforded to those who would counter anti-Semitic hate speech. As central platforms of discussion, debate, information access, commerce and human development, companies should invest heavily in models of deamplification and democratization of hate, user warnings, and promoting alternative and positive narratives.
I note that several media tech companies are part of the Global Coalition for Education, launched by UNESCO in May this year to support learning during the disruptions caused by the pandemic. And I digress a bit to make a reference to this contribution by tech companies because of the important role that education plays in dissolving stereotypes and dampening hate speech.
The spike in online education offers expanded opportunities to promote peer-to-peer empathy-based learning, and to increase digital literacy about disinformation, malinformation, and misinformation.
Overall, companies should make their efforts to combat hate speech more transparent. Equally, companies should assess whether their existing hate speech laws infringe upon freedom of expression and [INAUDIBLE] on discrimination by applying the legality, legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality principles I mentioned earlier.
For far too long, social media companies have avoided human rights law as a guide to their rules and rule making. It is urgent that they do so now, and I commend the organization of this event as a step in identifying ways to press offered solutions. I thank you.
SPECIAL ENVOY ELAN CARR: Hello. I’m Special Envoy Elan Carr. Allow me to offer a few concluding thoughts to this first ever U.S. government sponsored conference on combating online anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is often called the world’s oldest hatred. There is a direct line that runs from the plots of ancient Amalek to medieval blood libels, to the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.
And now, only 75 years since the Nazi crematoria have cooled, we’re seeing an alarming rise in anti-Semitism throughout the world. Our conference is aptly named Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium. The internet and social media brought great benefits to humanity, but as we know, these powerful platforms are also utilized by bad actors who have made them vectors of so many societal sicknesses.
Anti-Semitism is chief among these pathologies. It’s been increasing globally for more than a decade now, largely because of its propagation online. Haters from the far right, far left, and militant Islam, though ideologically opposed in so many ways, have found common cause in Jew hatred. And all three camps employ similar tactics, misusing modern media to spread the ancient hatred with unprecedented speed and reach. Some foreign governments compound the crisis, using the full force of their state apparatus to spew anti-Semitic disinformation at home and across the globe.
The spread of anti-Semitism on social media is troubling enough. For example, on Twitter and YouTube alone, 1.7 million anti-Semitic posts appeared in just the first eight months of this year. But the depravity is dramatically worse on the so-called deep web, where increased anonymity brings out unadulterated venom.
Parents don’t want their children wandering through violent hate-filled neighborhoods. But in the online world, increasing numbers of the world’s youth are lured into dangerous virtual neighborhoods, where they’re vulnerable to poisonous influences and can be lost to violent radicalization. The danger is real. A recent European study found that radicalization to the point of violence is accomplished much more quickly on the internet than through face-to-face interaction.
As we know, the results can be devastating. We’ve seen murderous attacks on synagogues and schools, vandalism of community buildings, relentless harassment of Jewish university students, and acts of terrorism from those radicalized to violence. The type or source of the threat may vary by region and country, but no part of the world has been spared the scourge.
That’s why this conference comes at such a critical time, and that’s why its purpose is not only to explain the problem, but more importantly, to help craft workable strategies to counter online hate.
Let’s first talk about crime. We heard from Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who explained the important distinction between protected speech and criminal conduct. Some anti-Semitic activity online rises to the level of crime. For example, criminal conspiracies, terrorist threats, and cyberstalking. When manifestations of anti-Semitism are criminal, whether they occur online or off, law enforcement authorities should respond forcefully by investigating and prosecuting those cases. As Deputy Attorney General Rosen emphasized, that is exactly what the Department of Justice will continue to do.
But what about the vast majority of online hate? That falls within the scope of the First Amendment, which protects even despicable speech from government censorship or punishment. Legally and practically, we can’t legislate hatred out of existence, nor can we purge it from the internet.
So what can we do to counter the torrents of hate online? Four especially important recommendations emerged during the course of this conference. I’ll summarize in this way. Define, educate, measure, and collaborate.
Defining a threat is the first step in effectively confronting it, which is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, working definition of anti-Semitism is so important. The State Department uses it, as do many countries and organizations throughout the world, and President Trump recently issued an executive order that employs it for the entire federal government.
As we’ve heard many times over the course of this conference, it would be critically important for the technology giants to adopt and implement this widely accepted definition, the definition that provides examples of the many forms that anti-Semitism takes in today’s world. Let me emphasize that the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism is a tool of education, not of censorship.
And that brings me to the second recommendation. Educate. Several of our presenters highlighted the importance of education. Social media platforms can use the IHRA working definition to educate their users about Jew hatred in all its forms. Users can also be referred to credible off platform sources of information, where they can learn about the enormous human costs imposed by anti-Semitism throughout history. Responding to hateful and hurtful speech with educating speech captures the essence of First Amendment values and holds the potential in the long term of elevating the human condition.
That was precisely the recommendation that was made to both Facebook and TikTok during our session, and I want to thank both of those platforms for engaging on this issue in a meaningful way.
Also when we speak about advancing the cause of education in this context, it’s important that we not limit our focus to educating about anti-Semitism. It’s vital that we emphasize educating in philo-Semitism as well. In other words, education that promotes an understanding of the Jewish people, Jewish history, and the deep and enduring contributions of Jewish values to the world. This was a point emphasized by Professor Robert George during his presentation and we should take it to heart.
The third recommendation is that we measure anti-Semitic activity online. We heard several experts explain how powerful technological tools allow us to track and evaluate huge numbers of online posts almost in real time. Those data are critically important in showing trends in anti-Semitic hate. Regions, demographics, ideological perspectives, forms of manifestation. Understanding those trends can allow civil society to respond in impactful ways. And of critical importance, those trends can correlate with violent attacks. Sophisticated data analysis of this kind can help us understand how and where a violent attack is likely to occur, thereby potentially saving lives.
Finally, a key recommendation was to collaborate. We must address the urgency of hate online by creating working alliances among social media giants, ethnic and faith communities, human rights advocacy organizations, and governments. Collaboration and coordination is a force multiplier. We hope that this conference succeeded in deepening existing alliances, forging new ones, and launching productive working groups.
Friends, the challenges loom large before us, but make no mistake, there is good news from the front lines. Despite rising anti-Semitism, the United States of America is still the most philo-Semitic country in history, and America is led by the most philo-Semitic administration we have ever had. President Trump has made combating Jew hatred a top national priority. The Trump administration designated a violent white supremacist group as a terrorist organization, ensured a Holocaust education for future generations of schoolchildren, issued an executive order protecting besieged Jewish college students, sent senior government delegations to stand with survivors of anti-Semitic attacks in Pittsburgh, and Poway, Jersey City and Brooklyn, Halle, Germany, and so many other places, and strongly supports the State of Israel against those seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Also great news is that we have principled partners throughout the world. Many foreign leaders are appalled at rising anti-Semitism and press the issue at home. They appreciate U.S. resolve in championing this cause. You have heard from some of those leaders during our conference.
And let’s remember, while the focus of this conference is anti-Semitism, many of the conclusions and recommendations we’ve made are equally applicable to other forms of online hate. The strategies and alliances formed will serve as tools in the broader cause of defending human dignity and religious freedom everywhere.
I want to thank our convener and host, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not only for making this groundbreaking conference possible, but also for his remarkable dedication to fighting anti-Semitism, protecting the Jewish people throughout the world, and supporting the State of Israel.
Thank you to the illustrious presenters, who took precious time out of their very busy schedules to share their wisdom with us. To my great team, thank you so much for your excellent work. I’m especially grateful to Assistant Special Envoy Efraim Cohen, who handles global internet issues related to anti-Semitism and was the lead for this conference. Our studio anchor, Assistant Special Envoy Elie Cohanim, the folks at Guidehouse, and Alex Dubin. My team works long and hard on so many initiatives throughout the world because they are deeply passionate about this cause. I can’t thank them enough.
Finally, and perhaps most of all, I want to thank all of you, our audience. If you’re watching this, it means that you’re as concerned as we about the problem and have decided to be part of the solution. You give us cause for optimism. If we come together for the common good and work with governments, faith communities, civic organizations, and other individuals of good as a coalition of conscience, there is every reason to hope that we will build a better world for our children where hate has no place online or off. Thank you so much for joining us. And God bless.