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Jewish Journal

Anti-Semitism vs. Facebook

by AMANDA SCHWARTZ, Contributing Writer

July 13, 2010 | 5:08 pm

Following the “Kick a Ginger Day” violence targeting redheads at a Calabasas middle school last November and the subsequent unease it inspired, “Kill a Jew Day” Facebook events have been popping up on the social networking site in rapid succession over the past month despite efforts to counteract the threats and hateful sentiments.

While the majority of these pages have been deactivated by Facebook within 24 hours of their creation, their repeated appearance and the ease with which users can post such events calls into question the distinction between free speech and hate speech, as well as Facebook’s response to the content. 

According to Facebook representative Simon Axten, the site is “highly self-regulating, and users can and do report content that they find questionable or offensive.”

Although Axten would not comment on the specifics of any of the pages, many of these events were deactivated only after counter-campaigns urged users to report the events to the Facebook administration.

Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities requires users to “not bully, intimidate or harass any user” and “not post content that is hateful, threatening or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

These “Kill a Jew Day” events have featured directives such as “you must kill at least one Jew” or “you know the drill, guys.” Nearly all have used swastikas as their avatars.

“They’re horrible and disgusting,” said Lila Mendelsohn, 16, of the events.

After seeing one while browsing Facebook last week, the Los Angeles resident, a rising senior at Hamilton High School and n’siah — president — of her local B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) chapter, reported the event to the Facebook administration but decided more needed to be done. 

With help from fellow BBYO member Elise Jackson, 17, Mendelsohn created an event titled “One Million Strong Against Kill a Jew Day.” Both girls invited all their Facebook friends to take action against the event and posted a link so that others could report it to Facebook.

Within hours, hundreds of Facebook users had clicked that they were “attending” the “One Million Strong” event. By the next morning, the “Kill a Jew Day” event had been deactivated. 

In contrast, “One Million Strong” currently has over 10,000 listed as “confirmed guests.”

Although Mendelsohn and Jackson acknowledge that they have already succeeded at their original goal, they believe that the sentiment behind their event still holds value.

“Even though one has been taken down, many more pages and groups have been made,” Mendelsohn said.

The “One Million Strong” event is just one of a number of Internet campaigns urging the removal of anti-Semitic content from the Internet or Facebook.

For the past two years, the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF), a pro-Israel advocacy organization that cites a network of over 250,000 supporters, has worked to expose and remove anti-Semitic material online.

“Our approach has always been to expose the material, get our network to report it, and call out the companies like Facebook and YouTube for their negligence in dealing with these issues effectively,” wrote JIDF founder David Appletree in an e-mail. 

The JIDF Web site features “Action Alerts” for various “Kill a Jew Day” events on Facebook and urges visitors to the page to report any existing events as well.

Appletree believes that Facebook has failed to take a forceful enough approach toward these matters.

“Their ‘enforcement’ of their own rules is inconsistent,” Appletree wrote. “Sometimes, they seem to react quickly; other times, they don’t react at all.”

According to Axten, Facebook has a large team of professional investigators who review and respond “as quickly as possible” to reports from the over 400 million people who use Facebook.

“The team prioritizes reports for the most serious violations, including those for nudity, pornography and harassment, which are typically handled within 24 hours.”

Additionally, Axten said, Facebook disables the accounts of people who “routinely violate our policies.”

Appletree believes Facebook should take a more proactive approach and immediately remove offensive material, instead of waiting for reports from users.

Other Facebook events that have sprung up include “Thrill a Jew Day,” as well as the group “We Are Disgusted by the Facebook Event ‘Kill a Jew Day.’ ”

Although both the “One Million Strong Against Kill a Jew Day” event and the JIDF urge nonviolent action, other events list suggestions such as “kill a neo-Nazi” or “drown a Flotilla.”

Jackson and Mendelsohn have discouraged users from posting counter-threats on their event.

“We don’t want people to respond with threats of violence,” Jackson said. “It’s just as bad.”

July appears to have marked an increase in Facebook events encouraging anti-Semitic violence. However, as early as last November, Haaretz reported a “Kick a Jew Day” event at a middle school in Naples, Fla., which resulted in the suspension of 10 students who had taken part in the event.

“When people aren’t standing up for their rights or what they believe in, it only makes the other people stronger and allows them to step all over them,” Jackson said.

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