A new feature recently adopted by Facebook allows users to add little animated images to their Messenger posts, like a smiley face, a cute picture of a cat – or an obscenely anti-Israel or anti-Semitic image.
The images are drawn from one of the largest suppliers of GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) images in Messenger, called GIPHY, and are visible to all, both inside the messaging program and at the GIPHY.com website.
Users can search for any term in the Messenger box (clicking on the GIF label below the message area brings up a search box), and a search for the term “Israel” brings up one that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Israel. It has what appears to be a missile being fired by the Statue of Liberty at the World Trade Center, in lower Manhattan.
Nothing, that is, unless you subscribe to the well-worn conspiracy theory that “Israel was behind 9/11.” According to this theory, the “missiles” in the image are not coming from the Statue of Liberty, but apparently from behind it – on the shores of New Jersey, where, according to the theory, five Israelis stood that day and “did something” to cause the World Trade Center to crumple and collapse, and were then seen “dancing and shouting for joy” (video of this allegedly exists but somehow has never surfaced online).
In truth, there is something to offend everyone on Messenger. A search at GIPHY for pejorative terms describing ethnic or racial groups, as well as other negative terms for Jews and Israel, yielded images that were associated with sites that hosted content most people would avoid. The site featuring the State of Liberty image contains a great deal of hate material, basically blaming all of the world’s woes (including last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris) on “the Zionists.” Such images were available on other GIF sites as well.
Images get into GIPHY when they are uploaded by users, and the site also appears to scan the web for GIF images. There were other negative images of Israel on the site and accessible in Messenger as well, including images of Israel being destroyed by an Iranian bomb, IDF soldiers shooting at Palestinian children. Other similar images could be added to Messenger images via the GIPHY site.
A Facebook spokesperson told The Times of Israel that there was nothing the site could do about these images.
The Facebook GIF search engine allows access to many GIF sites, in the same way that a Google search allows searches of all sites on the web. “Messenger is a platform that allows third party apps and sites to connect to it, and users can take advantage of that, in the same way that they would put up a YouTube video. As far as Facebook is concerned, it’s not even content – it’s a link.”
In an email, a GIPHY representative told The Times of Israel that the Statue of Liberty GIF had been removed from its library. “GIPHY’s goal has always been to be a safe and fun place to explore all the GIFs on the internet but, every once in a while, an offensive GIF will sneak through the cracks. These GIFs are not endorsed or promoted by GIPHY in the least,” the company’s email said.