Simon Hardy Butler

IDF Idiocy: A Facebook-Page Story

The text clearly communicates the disturbing misconception long held by Holocaust deniers that no gas chambers existed to murder Jews in concentration and other camps, as well as that “a total of 271,301 died during World War Two in these camps, mostly from typhus.”

No, this eyebrow-raising bit of sophistry doesn’t come from Haaretz‘s comments section, though that portion of the beleaguered publication definitely has seen its own share of unmitigated bigotry. Rather, the aforementioned theory has reared its ugly head in quite a different place altogether … an area more geared, one would think, to patriotic plaudits and general naches surrounding those who serve with the goal of protecting their ancient yet, at the same time, relatively new country.

That’s right, folks: It’s from the Israel Defense Forces’ own Facebook page—with the dubious pronouncement in this case generated by a fellow going by the innocuous-sounding name “Raymond Westlake.” And so far, there’s not a damn thing that the IDF has done about it.

Which is very scary indeed. Yet even scarier is the fact that this isn’t the only time such bias has been disseminated and left to fester on that page, despite its association with a much-vaunted body designed to safeguard the Jewish state. To tell you the truth, this kind of prejudice is more than common on the site; it’s actually pervasive and often is joined by anti-Semitic remarks that stem from innumerable “trolls” and range from old canards to calls for Jews’ destruction. Still, though the language these folks broadcast is frequently abusive and offensive, the page’s moderator does little to stop them. Hateful content is rarely deleted. Proponents of such invective are hardly ever banned from commenting on the page.

Why? you may ask. A request for comment from the IDF’s Facebook moderator that was conveyed via the page’s messaging tool went unanswered at press time. That may be telling, as clearly little is being done to reduce the amount of anti-Semitic hate speech on this site. The reason is obscure; perhaps it’s all in the name of “freedom of expression.” As the official Facebook page of Israel’s military corps, however, it definitely doesn’t require a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to online policy. This is not a city square where any person can stand on a soapbox and espouse whatever beliefs he or she subscribes to. It’s a page operated by a government body through the website of a public company, and these entities have an obligation to mandate certain rules of behavior that aim in part to protect users from being verbally or physically harmed. Hate speech is harmful. So the IDF has a responsibility to minimize it.

Sadly, it doesn’t. The institution does a lot of things that are right and justifiable and good, but this isn’t one of them. If it cares about the human beings of all nationalities and religions who gather on its Facebook page, it would be more proactive in eliminating hate speech from this forum. To start, comments such as the one I cite previously in this blog post should be deleted, with the individuals who post them banned from commenting on the page further. That would be one way to prevent this type of bias from arising here. Another would be to publish a set of guidelines for posting comments on the site, with clear reminders to users that any infractions will result in bans. If the IDF implements these steps, a better, safer Facebook page will result for sure.

If, that is, the IDF implements these steps.

In a perfect world, the armed forces of the Jewish state would be more sensitive to the needs of its Internet fan base. It’s already mindful of its tangible impact on Israel and the rest of the world. Shouldn’t it be cognizant of its web-related effects, too?

I’d be interested in seeing whether the IDF takes steps to counter this mounting problem in the future. One thing I know is I’m not the only human who’s been disgusted by it. There’s still time for the forces to roll up its sleeves and clean up its Facebook act. That might be a challenging prospect, given the plethora of offensive comments on its page, yet it’s not, by any means, impossible. The results will be worth it, I can tell you … and we should accept no online substitute.

Any respectable military organization that’s charged with protecting citizens would concur. Whether the IDF belongs in that hallowed club is still up for discussion.

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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