On November 10th, a Fb worker despatched out an uncommon e mail to an unknown outdoors social gathering, hoping to rearrange a dialog about how the platform moderated towards anti-Semitism. “We’re trying on the query of how we must always interpret assaults on ‘Zionists,’” reads the letter, whose recipient was redacted, “to find out whether or not the time period is a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli folks.”
That unusual however seemingly innocuous e mail has set off a firestorm in sure corners of the left. Since Tuesday, activists have been circulating a petition calling on the platform to halt any potential adjustments to the best way Fb moderates the phrase “Zionist.” Either side agree the time period is usually used as a part of racist rhetoric that’s precisely described as hate speech and needs to be eliminated. On the identical time, the time period can be utilized by Jewish critics of particular Israeli insurance policies, significantly the nation’s settlement coverage. Classifying the time period as hate speech would find yourself stifling these criticisms — not less than on Fb.
Hosted by the progressive group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), the petition in the end drew greater than 20,000 signatures, together with artist-activists like Michael Chabon, Peter Gabriel, and Wallace Shawn. “We’re deeply involved about Fb’s proposed revision of its hate speech coverage to think about ‘Zionist’ as a proxy for ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish,’” the petition reads. “That is the improper resolution to an actual and vital drawback.”
Reached for remark, Fb denied that there are any plans to reclassify the phrase in its hate speech coverage. However on the identical time, Fb didn’t dispute the authenticity of the e-mail or deny that the platform’s classification of the time period “Zionist” was beneath evaluate — merely saying no determination had been made.
“Underneath our present insurance policies, we permit the time period ‘Zionist’ in political discourse, however take away it when it’s used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent manner,” mentioned a Fb spokesperson. “Simply as we do with all of our insurance policies repeatedly, we’re independently partaking with consultants and stakeholders to make sure that this coverage is in the appropriate place, however this doesn’t imply we’ll change our coverage.“
Even with out a concrete coverage change to reply to, JVP sees Fb’s e mail as a part of a broader marketing campaign to shift how the platform treats criticism of the Israeli authorities. “Limiting the phrase ‘Zionist’ as a part of a hate speech coverage gained’t truly make Jewish folks safer,” mentioned Rabbi Alissa Sensible, Deputy Director at Jewish Voice for Peace, who mentioned the proposed Fb change would solely “forestall its customers from holding the Israeli authorities accountable for harming Palestinian folks.”
“Social media corporations ought to permit folks to carry our governments accountable to us,” Sensible continued, “not protect governments from accountability.”
The brand new adjustments appear believable partly due to the fast adjustments in Fb’s public insurance policies in direction of anti-Semitism, a lot of them constructive. In August, Fb altered its hate speech coverage to immediately tackle anti-Semitism after receiving a letter from a coalition of Jewish groups. The revised hate speech coverage included a variety of particular references to anti-Semitism, together with a clause that explicitly labeled generalizations about “Jewish folks operating the world” as anti-Semitic hate speech.
However Fb didn’t make all of the adjustments requested within the August letter. The signees urged Fb to undertake a definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). However the IHRA requirements embody a lot of provisions that doubtlessly restrict criticism of Israel itself, classifying “making use of double requirements” to the nation’s actions or usually “denying the Jewish folks their proper to self-determination” as anti-Semitic. These identical provisions have been the topic of US congressional proposals round anti-Semitism, which have been criticized by the ACLU on similar grounds.
In a letter to one of the project’s architects, Fb COO Sheryl Sandberg mentioned the IHRA definition “has been invaluable” in informing Fb’s insurance policies, however left the small print of the implementation extra obscure. And Fb’s present hate speech coverage doesn’t point out Israel or Zionism.
Fb has continued to interact with teams on each side of the controversy, however the ongoing nature of the outreach has raised tempers as an alternative of calming them. Architects of the August letter have continued to strain Fb to “totally undertake” the IHRA definition, and it’s unclear how a lot sway these arguments have inside Fb.
“Fb’s updates to its hate speech coverage haven’t happy its IHRA-focused critics, whose objective isn’t to get Fb to deplatform antisemitism,” wrote activist Lara Friedman within the wake of the August letter, “however to get Fb to deplatform criticism of Israel.”