Nearly 130 Nongovernmental organizations signed onto a letter sent Friday to chiding Facebook’s Board of Directors and requesting that the platform adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and include it in its hate speech policy.
The letter comes amid a rise in antisemitism in America and across the globe. It often rears its ugly head on social media, where users have the freedom and audience to spew hatred. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse as antisemites seize a global crisis to promote conspiracies blaming Jews for a virus that emanated from Wuhan, China.
Friday’s letter, signed by prominent advocacy groups like StopAntisemitism.org, Students Supporting Israel, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pointed to Facebook’s Director of Content Policy Stakeholder Engagement Peter Stern, who recently “admitted that Facebook does not have a policy aimed at combatting online antisemitism”…. and “that Facebook does not embrace the full adoption of the IHRA working definition because the definition recognizes that modern manifestations of antisemitism relate to Israel.”
Facebook did not respond to this reporter’s request for comment. However, the platform did respond to the signatories of the letter who asked the platform, “Will Facebook join the ranks of the historians, advocates, activists, lawmakers, and leaders who compiled the IHRA working definition? Will Facebook take responsibility and move toward removing the scourge of antisemitism from today’s most important online public square?”
On Tuesday, the letter gained the attention of Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg who wrote a response to Liora Rez of StopAntisemitism.org ensuring that the platform recognizes the IHRA definition’s value and will “continue to refine our policy lines as speech and society evolve – and appreciate your help and expertise identifying how attacks change over time.”
Copied on the response were Facebook’s Monika Bickert, Vice President of Content Policy, and Peter Stern, Director of Public Policy. In a response letter that followed, Bickert wrote to the signatories of Friday’s letter that “we address the scourge of anti-semitism through our Community Standards.”
“The holistic view of battling anti-Semitism ensures that we don’t look a series of posts or individual actors, but that we understand online and offline trends to ensure that our teams are continually on top of new and evolving threats to Jews around the world,” she wrote.
“Jewish organizations are among the stakeholders we engage in writing an updated policy to remove more implicit hate speech, including stereotypes about Jewish people as a collective controlling the media, economy, or government. The decision to remove this content draws on the spirit – and the text – of the IHRA in ways we found helpful and appropriate to protect against hate and anti-Semitic content.”
It still remains unclear if Facebook will use the IHRA definition in its official content policy. “The policy reflects both our commitment to engage and learn from the best sources of knowledge and our readiness to update our policies in line with our values,” Bickert wrote.
Bickert added that the social media site will continue working with “experts and effected communities” to continue to better understand an ever-changing form of hate. Facebook, she said, has a broad hate speech policy that covers hate against “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.”
The United States, along with 30 other countries, adopted the working definition of antisemitism on May 26, 2016, while taking part in the IHRA’s bi-annual Plenary meeting in Bucharest, Romania. Since then, the number of countries to implement the definition has grown to nearly 40 countries.
Moreover, the Trump administration included IHRA’s definition in a December 2019 Executive Order on combatting antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is 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.”