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Hadara Ishak

The Role of Social Media Companies in Free Speech and Antisemitism

In today’s digital age, social media platforms have become the primary arena for public discourse. These platforms wield enormous power in shaping public opinion and discourse, yet their role in moderating content has raised significant concerns about free speech and bias. Social media giants like Meta (Facebook and Instagram), YouTube, TikTok, Twitter/X, as well as review platforms like Yelp, have complex review practices that often results in controversial moderation decisions.

Social media companies are at a crossroads. The ethical dilemmas they face are profound as they navigate the thin line between providing a platform for free expression and promoting open dialogue and preventing hate speech. However, recent high-profile cases suggest that these platforms often enforce obscure, inconsistent and opaque rules on what content is allowed, promoted, or blocked, resulting in accusations of bias.

One glaring issue is the appearance of these platforms picking sides in political, cultural, and social debates. For instance, content that aligns with certain political ideologies may receive favorable treatment while opposing views, or even posts with certain keywords, are suppressed by the platform’s algorithms. This selective moderation undermines the principle of free speech and distorts public perception, creating echo chambers that amplify specific viewpoints while silencing others.

A particularly troubling aspect of this issue is the rise of antisemitism on social media. With users rapidly consuming short-form content, platforms’ content often oversimplifies complex issues like the Israel-Hamas war. For example, a 30-second TikTok post recapping the war has no chance of providing the necessary context to someone with no background knowledge. Jewish advocates have specifically called out these platforms for enabling antisemitism through their content policies, allowing and sometimes even amplifying content that perpetuates harmful stereotypes and fuels hate against the Jewish community.

Social media also gives a platform to individuals who may not be adequately informed on critical issues yet have large followers willing to act based on an influencer’s uninformed or misinformed opinions. This “armchair expert” phenomenon is particularly dangerous, as influential voices can spread misinformation and hate, amplifying antisemitic rhetoric and shaping biased narratives. The speed and reach of social media mean that false or harmful content can go viral before accurate information has a chance to catch up.

The challenges social media companies face in moderating content are undeniable. They must tackle the spread of a seemingly infinite amount of misinformation, protect users from hate speech and harassment, and navigate the demands of various interest groups. However, their current practices often fall short of these goals, leading to an outcry for greater transparency and accountability.

Considering this, it is encouraging to see positive developments. This week, Meta took a significant step by expanding their hate speech moderation policy to remove more posts attacking Jewish people and Israelis by labeling them “Zionists.” This decision acknowledges the importance of diverse perspectives and aims to address some of the biases that have plagued content moderation. Applauding Meta for this move, we hope it sets a precedent for other social media platforms to follow to ensure that all voices, including those advocating for Jewish and Zionist perspectives, are fairly represented.

Social media companies must adopt more transparent content moderation practices to address these issues further. This includes clear and consistent guidelines on what constitutes harmful content, regular audits of moderation practices to ensure impartiality and open communication with users about why certain content is removed or allowed. Additionally, there needs to be a more robust appeals process for users who feel their content has been unfairly targeted.

Policymakers also have a role to play in ensuring social media platforms uphold the principles of free expression while preventing discrimination. Legislation that mandates transparency in content moderation and holds companies accountable for their policies can help strike a balance between free speech and the prevention of hate speech.

Ultimately, the goal should be to create a more equitable approach to free speech on digital platforms. By fostering meaningful dialogue and pushing for reforms, we can ensure that social media remains a space for open expression while protecting vulnerable communities from harm. As we navigate this digital age, it is crucial that we demand accountability from social media companies and advocate for policies that uphold our democratic values.

About the Author
Before coming to Jewish Future Promise, Hadara had a career in both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds. She was an entrepreneur, building Jan Micolle into a successful women’s clothing manufacturing company. After Jan Micolle, she was vice president of distribution and a co-producer at Imagination Productions, an independent not- for- profit documentary film company focused on the Jewish world.
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