Rocky Mountain Red Lines

ADL’s Greenblatt debates Meta executive over content moderation

The ADL CEO argued at the Aspen Ideas Festival over what constitutes antisemitism and Meta’s content moderation practices

Twitter/Jonathan Greenblatt

Panel about free speech and social media at Aspen Ideas Festival, June 26, 2023

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt debated with co-panelists on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday over Meta’s content moderation policies and antisemitism.

Meta’s Vice President of Civil Rights and Deputy General Counsel Roy Austin — speaking alongside Greenblatt and First Amendment law experts on a panel about free speech and social media — argued that Facebook must resist coordinated campaigns calling for content to be taken down.

“The NAACP, ADL, civil rights organizations have done coordinated campaigns forever… you can have a coordinated campaign where you rile up all of your believers and do whatever you want to on your platform but you… people from the Koch family are not allowed to rile up people who have your beliefs?” Austin questioned. “Are we the ones to make that decision? We can’t be there picking and choosing winners and losers in this discussion.”

The ADL CEO alleged Austin drew false equivalencies between civil rights groups calling for content to be removed from Facebook and “the organizing by violent white supremacists or raging anti-Zionists or horrible QAnon enthusiasts” calling the idea “really offensive.”

“We can take the very, very far right and the very, very far left and say that that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about that,” Austin replied. “The people who want to put up stuff about rumors, who want to put up stuff about George Soros, those are mainstream political actors, not the white supremacists, not the far left, and the question is, should we shut down people who actually hold office in the United States who are advocating for these things?”

Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami responded, “Yes, you absolutely should.”

Greenblatt also recounted the unprompted antisemitism he experiences daily on his social media accounts. “When I tweet about the weather, or when I tweet about my mom, or in a tweet about anything, the vitriol directed at me from right-wing extremists and radical white supremacists and QAnon enthusiasts, and radical people on the left who say ‘free Palestine’ to me, is really stunning,” Greenblatt said. “And it is indicative of the deep dysfunction in these platforms.”

Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute and Columbia University said later in the event that he was “nodding my head” with Greenblatt until he listed off “free Palestine.”

“I don’t want to debate that issue, but the point is that people are going to disagree,” Jaffer continued. 

Greenblatt shot back, “saying free Palestine to a Jewish person out of context is antisemitism, plain and simple. Just like a Muslim person saying ‘free Kashmir out of context’ is also [hateful].”

Jaffer reiterated that “I don’t want to have that debate,” to which Greenblatt replied “this is not a debate, it’s not a debate.”

Jaffer argued that such disagreements are demonstrative of why Facebook should not “be the arbiter of that kind of thing.”

“If Facebook doesn’t want to be the arbiter of these decisions, then Facebook should shut itself down,” Franks said. “There’s no reason to keep creating problems and then say, ‘Oh but who could possibly deal with this problem?’ Well, then stop creating it.”

“There’s no natural law that preordains that these companies should have so much reach in our lives,” Greenblatt added.

The panel also discussed potential regulations of social media platforms, with Greenblatt reiterating his support for reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants platforms immunity from liability for content their users post, to improve accountability and transparency.

“If they’re not willing to do that, that should tell us all something,” Greenblatt said.

Austin noted that Meta has broadly called for regulation in the past, but — when pressed by Jaffer, on what sort of regulation the company would support in practice — Austin was unable to name any specific reforms the company had publicly supported.

Ed. note: A prior version of this story misattributed quotes from Jameel Jaffer to Meta’s Roy Austin.

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