On 23 June, CST joined our Muslim anti-extremism friends Tell MAMA and Imams Online on a public panel at Facebook’s London HQ, for the British launch of the tech giant’s new Online Civil Courage Initiative, to be known by the acronym OCCI.
It was a privilege for CST to have a leading role at this event, and for me to meet with extraordinary people like Brendan Cox (husband of the late Jo Cox MP) and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
OCCI is a potentially far reaching initiative in which Facebook aims to help build, promote and host counter-extremist material from groups like CST and our anti-extremism allies in other communities.
The project builds upon serious research from the impressive Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and two renowned academic bodies, the Amadeus Institute and ICSR (the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence).
All of this is brought together by Facebook’s own in-house counter-terrorism team, which is itself led by experts in the field.
The explanatory pack for OCCI concludes with a quote in Sheryl Sandberg’s name. It states, “The best cure for bad ideas, are good ideas. The best remedy for hate is tolerance. Counterspeech is incredibly strong – and it takes time, energy and courage”.
A cynic, or to be frank most realists, might point out that Facebook is the company’s own creation and property, so if they wish to “cure bad ideas”, why don’t they start by deleting “bad” material from their own site?
For me, this has long been exemplified by the disgusting Jewish Ritual Murder Facebook page, carrying the infamous anti-Semitic Blood Libel, in which Jews are accused of killing Christian children in order to use their blood for religious practise.
There is no “remedy”, “tolerance” or “good” in Facebook helping CST make and distribute a snappy video, showing that children’s blood in matzah would make it more chametzdik than a bacon butty on white granary bread.
Despite my anger at this and other examples, I know from repeated experience that Facebook has come a very long way in recent years in acknowledging its social responsibility, in seeking to understand the problem and, now, in trying to maximise the site as a force for good.
We can all sneer about how much of this is due to legal and reputational considerations, rather than morality, but the bottom line is that OCCI is properly researched, highly skilled and represents an important moment of opportunity for all those who care about counter-extremist and counter-hate speech.
Make no mistake, CST will continue striving to remove hatred from Facebook, but there is a huge war of ideas taking place right now on social media.
It is crucial that our community, our ideals and our voice is heard within that, so this Facebook initiative comes not a moment too soon.