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Social media firms fail to remove 84pc of anti-semitic posts, report finds

·5 min read
Facebook logo - Denis Charlet/Getty
Facebook logo - Denis Charlet/Getty

Social media companies failed to remove 84 per cent of posts containing anti-semitic conspiracies, extremism and abuse, a report has found.

Examples of the posts include claims that the Holocaust was a “hoax” and that the Rothschild dynasty was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found and reported 714 posts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok over a six-week period.

Collectively, the posts had around 7.3 million impressions worldwide.

But only 16 per cent (114) of the reported posts resulted in the content being deleted or flagged, or the account being removed entirely.

The findings come two weeks after the CCDH revealed that Instagram had taken no action against 94 per cent of accounts linked to racist abuse of black England players following the team's Euro 2020 defeat.

CCDH’s “Failure to Protect” project found Facebook removed the fewest posts and accounts flagged to them compared with the other platforms.

Of the 129 anti-semitic posts reported to Facebook, just 10 per cent were acted upon including five posts and eight accounts being removed.

In one case, Facebook labelled a viral post which was denying the Holocaust, instead of removing it, the report claims. Posts can often be given labels as displaying false information but will remain on the site with a disclaimer.

Twitter removed just 11 per cent of the 137 posts flagged to them. But the report also found tweets with the well-known anti-semitic hashtag “holohoax” and claims that Anne Frank’s diary was fake were not acted upon.

The project flagged the most posts to Instagram, 277 in total, and the platform acted upon 18 per cent of them. This included removing 37 accounts and 15 posts. The researchers found Instagram failed to act on one post which featured Nazi propaganda.

TikTok, a platform with a typically younger audience, also removed 18 per cent of the 119 posts flagged to them, including removing 16 posts and six accounts.

YouTube removed the highest percentage of posts and accounts, 21 per cent. The platform also had the lowest number of posts flagged - 52. But the project found 41 anti-semitic videos which had been hosted on the site for an average of six years, with 3.5 million combined views.

Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: “Social media has become a safe space for racists to normalise their conspiracies and hateful rhetoric without fear of consequences. This is why social media is increasingly unsafe for Jewish people, just as it is becoming for women, black people, Muslims, LGBT people and many other groups.”

He claimed it was “not about algorithms or automation”, but that their research showed “social media companies allow bigots to keep their accounts open and their hate to remain online, even when human moderators are notified”.

The report comes after the Government announced a new Online Safety Bill in which social media firms could face multi-billion pound fines if they breach laws designed to protect users from online harms.

“The test of the Government’s Online Safety Bill is whether platforms can be made to enforce their own rules or face consequences themselves,” Mr Ahmed said.

“Those being targeted and harassed on social media must be allowed to participate in digital society without facing a wall of targeted identity-based abuse.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This report’s findings demonstrate unequivocally that the world’s largest social media companies are repeatedly failing not just their Jewish users, but all Jews, online or offline, targeted by anti-semitic hate transmitted via these platforms.

“Anti-semitism, whether in the form of targeted abuse, conspiracy theories, or Holocaust denial and revisionism, is being allowed to spread almost entirely unchecked.”

The CCDH has recommended platforms must hire and train moderators to remove hate, that they should face financial penalties to incentivise moderation and permanently ban users that send racist abuse to Jewish people.

Platforms must also act on anti-semitic hastags which facilitate the rapid spread of anti-semitism, it said.

A Facebook spokesperson said the platform had made progress in fighting anti-semitism but added “our work is never done”.

“These reports do not account for the fact that we have taken action on 15 times the amount of hate speech since 2017, the prevalence of hate speech is decreasing on our platform and, of the hate speech we remove, 97 per cent was found before someone reported it to us,” added the spokesperson.

A YouTube spokesperson said it has established a “robust hate speech policy” and removed 85,000 videos for violating its hate speech policy in the first quarter of 2021.

Of the 52 videos evaluated by CCDH, YouTube said it had removed 30 videos for violating its hate speech policy, 13 of which were removed prior to receiving the report.

The company added that it had deleted two channels, one for violating its hate speech policy and the second for repeatedly infringing its terms of service.

A Twitter spokesperson said: “We strongly condemn anti-semitism in any form. We’re working to make Twitter a safer place for online engagement, and to that end, improving the speed and scale of our rule enforcement is a top priority for us. We recognize that there’s more to do, and we’ll continue to listen and integrate stakeholders’ feedback in these ongoing efforts.”

Instagram and TikTok were contacted for comment.