Facebook Follies: Haaretz and Hate Speech, Part II

An interesting development in the Haaretz hate-speech saga just occurred.

Recently, I wrote a blog post for the Times of Israel that criticized Israeli newspaper Haaretz for its inability to mitigate anti-Semitic hate speech on its Facebook page. Yesterday, I received a message via Facebook from the social media staffer at Haaretz who addresses feedback on the page; the message featured a screenshot of some extremely Islamophobic hate speech posted by a frequent commenter on Haaretz‘s page, along with the following note from the Haaretz staffer: “Nothing to say about this hate speech, Simon?”

Frankly, I had a lot to say. That insulting comment would never have passed muster on the Times of Israel’s Facebook page, and I believe the individual who posted it had already been banned by the TOI, if I’m not mistaken. But this one comment doesn’t negate the plethora of anti-Semitic hate speech directed at Jews on Haaretz‘s Facebook page, nor does it contradict my argument that the social media team at Haaretz is not doing its job in mitigating it properly. A quick look at that publication’s Facebook page reveals an inordinate amount of virulently anti-Semitic hate speech ranging from offensive attacks on attacks on Judaism itself to the advocacy of the “emergence of another Hitler,” as one commenter bluntly remarked. And that’s just a snapshot of one small section of the page; the site is rife with such content, and it remains there to fester, to collect “likes” from similarly minded bigots, to encourage other prejudiced individuals to spread their intolerance and anger.

Why such texts aren’t removed and the perpetrators banned from commenting further on the page, I don’t know. I speculated in my previous article on the matter that Haaretz’s guidelines may be either too vague to address the “creative” ways hate speech can be conveyed, and that may be one reason why we’re not seeing mitigation of anti-Semitic hate speech on the site. Or, conversely, the guidelines may be too strict to enforce properly—perhaps the publication may only employ, in general, a “delete-and-ban” strategy when it encounters anti-Semitic ethnic slurs, such as the word “kike” … which, by the way, is rarely found on the page, as proponents of anti-Semitic hate speech congregating there prefer to circumvent such terminology in favor of more “inventive” epithets. Nevertheless, the lack of concern Haaretz‘s social media team has for its readership in this regard is palpable. Inquiries made of the staffer who sent me the “nothing to say” remark, vis a vis some truly disturbing examples of hate speech appearing on the paper’s Facebook page, remained unresponded to at press time, as did a question I posed to this individual regarding whether the method by which he or she roots out hate speech is similar to the one I use: poring over the comments on the Times of Israel’s Facebook page. Frankly, I read them thoroughly, picking out the ones that are offensive and deleting them, as well as banning the people who posted them as needed. Does the Haaretz social media team do the same thing?

Obviously not. And if that publication is to maintain a reputation for solid journalism, it should also address the need to foster a safe environment for individuals to comment on its Facebook page, as well as any other social media site it operates, without fear of being threatened by hate speech … including anti-Semitism. That it does not do so at this time is telling, and that the social media staffer who messaged me with the “nothing to say” remark didn’t address the anti-Semitic remarks so prevalent on the page is troubling. Does Haaretz condone the content insulting Jews on its page? Simon Spungin, managing editor of the English-language version of the publication, recently pointed to “the principle of free speech” as a rationale precluding the removal of comments that “do not violate [its] guidelines” from its page. Where does it draw the line, though? How does it determine what is merely “distasteful,” as Spungin put it, versus hate speech? There is no universal moderator to dictate the standards by which all social media gurus enforce their rules. How does Haaretz know that it is right?

I move that it doesn’t. And I know for sure, given the preponderance of anti-Semitic hate speech on its Facebook page, that it isn’t.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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