Tech gets tough

Facebook cracks down on hate speech and expands definition of antisemitism

The social media giant announced the updated policy on Tuesday

Ian Wagreich/Aspen Ideas Festival

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook is cracking down on hate speech, including antisemitism, on the platform, the social media company announced on Tuesday. 

According to its updated community standards policy, the platform will now take down content that depicts “Jewish people running the world or controlling major institutions such as media networks, the economy or the government.” The platform will also take down posts that include “caricatures of black people in the form of blackface.”

The language is similar to the text of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which specifically cites “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.” 

“The IHRA working definition of antisemitism has always been valuable for informing our own approach to fighting antisemitism,” Jordana Cutler, Facebook’s head of public policy for Israel and the Jewish diaspora, told JI. “The harmful stereotypes policy that we launched today draws on the spirit and the text of the second bullet point in the IHRA definition.”

The decision marks the first substantive policy update to the company’s “objectionable content” standards in months. Facebook said Tuesday that it had scaled up efforts to address problematic content, taking action on 22.5 million pieces of content during the second quarter of 2020, up from 9.6 million pieces of content in the first quarter.

“This is a policy that we have been working on for over a year; with stakeholders from many different communities impacted by this policy,” Cutler said. “We have had roundtables with Jewish organizations in both the U.S. and Europe to help us understand where we can improve and help keep Jews feel safe on our platform. This policy is the result of those conversations and it took time to operationalize it with the size and scale of our platform.”

In a statement, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said, “The World Jewish Congress has worked closely with Facebook to encourage the platform to remove harmful content including stereotypes as a form of hate speech. We applaud Facebook for its leadership and hope this move will be a guiding light for other social media companies to follow.” 

Facebook has come under fire in recent months for allowing hate speech on its website. In June, the Anti-Defamation League, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Color of Change and other organizations launched a campaign to encourage companies to pause advertising on the website to protest the presence of hate speech on the platform.

In May, the company announced the creation of an independent oversight board to function as a final arbiter over questions regarding removing objectionable content from the site.

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