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International lawmakers to push social media giants on online anti-Semitism

Bipartisan task force of lawmakers from US, Israel, Australia, Canada and UK hear recommendations for actions they can take to address issue, hold big tech accountable

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

An inter-parliamentary task force to combat online anti-Semitism convenes its first session over Zoom on November 10, 2020. (Screen capture/Zoom)
An inter-parliamentary task force to combat online anti-Semitism convenes its first session over Zoom on November 10, 2020. (Screen capture/Zoom)

NEW YORK — An inter-parliamentary task force convened its first meeting Tuesday to hear recommendations from panelists on how to combat online anti-Semitism.

The group included members from across party lines in national legislatures from the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

The meeting, on Zoom, opened with presentations from representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada, B’nai Brith Canada, Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Online Hate Prevention Institute in Australia.

Several panelists and lawmakers encouraged the task force to push social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The classification includes demonization of Israel alongside more traditional forms of anti-Semitism, which critics say limits free speech.

Holly Huffnagle speaks at European Parliament on Jewish community security in 2017. (Courtesy)

During her presentation, AJC’s Holly Huffnagle recommended that the task force ask platforms to be transparent in the drafting of policies, algorithms and moderation systems, and that they abide by a set of core principals that will earn the public’s trust.

She called for the formation of an inter-parliamentary system to gather and share new data quickly and for the recruiting of experts to advise the task force so that it will be equipped to recommend technical changes from social media giants.

Huffnagle also urged the task force to expand its focus to non-mainstream social media platforms, arguing that much of the online anti-Semitism is taking place on fringe sites such as 8kun (previously 8chan) and other platforms based outside the US and other major countries.

Twice during the meeting, Canadian MP Anthony Housefather read out anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tweets from Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and lamented Twitter’s refusal to flag or remove the posts as the platform has done with tweets from US President Donald Trump.

“Amid this global pandemic, when more people are online, the urgency to act is even greater. We must expose online anti-Semitism and racism that goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed on social media platforms, especially as disinformation continues to rise,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Florida said during the meeting.

The task force was announced in September and includes Wasserman Schultz, fellow Florida Democrat Ted Deutch, along with Chris Smith and Mario Diaz-Balart from the Republican party. From outside the US, Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh represents Israel, MPs Anthony Housefather and Marty Morantz represent Canada, MPs Josh Burns and Dave Sharma represent Australia and MPs Andrew Percy and Alex Sobel represent the United Kingdom.

The group is set to convene again at the end of November.

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