There are two potential responses when organisations, after a long period of apparent reluctance, finally decide to do the right thing.
You can praise them to the skies, or you can make it clear that, while you are happy they have come to this conclusion, you are deeply disturbed that it took them so long.
When it comes to Facebook and Twitter, the temptation is to do the former. These are powerful companies, with profits larger than the GDP of some countries. Positive reinforcement, it could be argued, is the best approach in such a context.
But unalloyed praise would ring hollow, because the truth is that the long-term failure to act on such an obvious issue is profoundly worrying.
For years, Jewish communal organisations, including our own, have been urging social media companies to ban Holocaust denial.
We have prepared briefings on the subject, painstakingly setting out what should have been obvious – that it is impossible to promote Holocaust denial without being deeply antisemitic. We were repeatedly fobbed off.
The situation deteriorated to the point where, earlier this year, a video campaign featuring Holocaust survivors was organised, in a desperate attempt to appeal directly to Mark Zuckerberg, the one person with the power to ban Holocaust denial from Facebook. This, along with full-throated efforts from Jewish communities worldwide, appears finally to have had an effect.
Of course, we are happy that Facebook, followed closely by Twitter, has announced it will be banning Holocaust denial and distortion. We hope to work closely with the platform in the coming months to ensure such material is indeed removed from it and that proper techniques and procedures are instituted to be able to quickly identify and remove such content.
We also want to ensure that the interpretation of “distortion” correlates with what the Jewish community would consider to be such revisionism.
We are clear that this is not an end to the process of combatting antisemitism on social media, but a beginning. We still strongly believe social media companies need to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Such action was impossible without the banning of Holocaust denial. Now that this has been achieved, we hope these companies will take what we consider to be the obvious next step.
While we will continue to work with social media companies to encourage them to go further and adopt the international definition of antisemitism, we will continue to urge the government to ensure that social media companies are held to this standard.
We would advocate the appointment of an online regulator who will adopt IHRA and judge social media companies’ protection of Jewish users against that standard.
We will also continue to recommend that the government requires social media companies to appoint a minimum number of staff in their UK teams to moderate harmful content generated here.
As well as potentially improving accountability, we believe it would also be beneficial to have moderators with country-specific political, cultural and linguistic context. And, to make sure that such platforms follow the rules, there need to be heavy fines for social media companies that fail to comply with the newly-agreed standards.
Facebook and Twitter have – finally – banned Holocaust denial. Now they need to go further to prevent the online targeting of Jews. We hope they will do so themselves, proactively and voluntarily, but if they will not, then they may well be compelled to do so by law.