A host of British politicians, celebrities, high-profile figures and other users said they were signing off of Twitter for two days starting Monday morning to protest anti-Semitic hate on the social media platform.
The protest, promoted under the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate, was sparked by Twitter’s handling of a recent anti-Semitic rant by UK rap artist Wiley, and came as anti-hate groups have stepped up pressure for social media platforms to clamp down on rampant hate speech.
Wiley, 41, whose real name is Richard Cowie, posted a stream of anti-Semitic tweets Friday, claiming connections between the Jewish community and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as repeated tropes about Jews and money.
The tweets were up for 12 hours before Twitter finally deleted some of them under its “hateful conduct policy,” though others remain. He also posted anti-Semitic content on Instagram, which appeared not to have been deleted.
The grime musician, who has half a million Twitter followers, was given a seven-day suspension from the platform. Amid a wave of backlash his management company said it had cut all ties with him. He is also facing a police investigation.
Among the people and organizations going silent until Wednesday are British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and his predecessor Jonathan Sacks, members of Parliament, Israeli elected officials and leading Jewish organizations in Canada and the United States.
Before going dark, Mirvis posted a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey calling for action against anti-Semitism on the platform he co-founded more than a decade ago. “Your inaction amounts to complicity,” Mirvis wrote.
The protest took root after Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, who became famous for her role on “EastEnders,” tweeted on Friday night that she was considering abandoning Twitter over Wiley’s two-day spree of aggressively anti-Semitic posts.
Please join us .@Twitter has allowed @WileyCEO 48 hours of pure race hate. His tweets are still up. @jack has to stick by their remit of anti racism. Silence is complicity. Please walk out with us . No to all race hate . No to platforming any race hate #nosafespaceforjewhate pic.twitter.com/gKFDedjzmM
— Tracy-Ann Oberman (@TracyAnnO) July 25, 2020
A British activist named Saul Freeman approached Oberman with the idea of the boycott, the Jewish News reported. Freeman had previously focused his energy largely on advocating against anti-Semitism in England’s Labour Party.
Oberman announced the boycott on Saturday using the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate. Over the weekend, hundreds if not thousands of people declared their intention to participate. They included both Jews and non-Jewish allies.
A spokesman for the walkout organizers said in a statement Saturday that the action “is to show that the Jewish community and its allies have had enough of platforms like Twitter acting as loudspeakers for antisemitism, amplifying the hatred of Jews to millions of other social media users.”
The spokesman called Twitter’s response “completely inadequate.”
“Unless there is an immediate change in how Twitter operates then there will be further action, including legal action, against the organization,” the spokesman said.
The UK’s educational Holocaust Educational Trust and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, as well as the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said they would join the boycott.
“Recent weeks have seen people around the world come together to stand up against anti-Semitism and racism. We will not be divided. It is about time that social media companies live up to the values their users would expect,” HET said in a statement.
British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg retweeted the HET message and wrote, “Social media companies are not doing enough to counter the spread of hate speech on their platforms. I’ll be taking part in the 48 hour walk out from @Twitter in solidarity with the Jewish community.”
And Sarah Brown, a nonprofit leader who is married to former prime minister Gordon Brown, encouraged her 1 million followers to participate. “Best way to be an ally now is to join this 48 hour Twitter walkout in solidarity with the Jewish community,” she wrote. “Antisemitism is unacceptable. So I am off for 48 hours. Hope you are too.”
Social media companies are not doing enough to counter the spread of hate speech on their platforms. I’ll be taking part in the 48 hour walk out from @Twitter in solidarity with the Jewish community #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate https://t.co/YIy4Ot4dvf
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) July 26, 2020
Conservative MPs Tom Tugendhat and Chris Clarkson also gave their support for the walkout.
Labour Against Anti-Semitism, which has been promoting the walkout, said in a statement said that Twitter has shown a “repeated failure to tackle antisemitism on the platform.”
Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, historian Simon Schama, TV presenter Rachel Riley, singer Beverley Knight, actor David Schneider and the Campaign Against Antisemitism will also participate, LAAS said, according to a report Sunday from the UK Evening Standard newspaper.
Former Labour MP Luciana Berger, who left the party over anti-Semitism, also joined the action.
Though not pledging to join the walkout, British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Sunday criticized Twitter for not acting more quickly to remove the Wiley posts and tweeted, “Social media companies must act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms.”
The antisemitic posts from Wiley are abhorrent.
They should not have been able to remain on Twitter and Instagram for so long and I have asked them for a full explanation.
Social media companies must act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) July 26, 2020
The effort is reminiscent of Blackout Tuesday, the day last month in which many social media users responded to a call to post black squares to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. That display drew wide attention — and also criticism that it effectively silenced the movement’s supporters at a time when their voices were needed.
That criticism also emerged in response to the #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate boycott.
“This is so misconceived that it almost feels deliberate,” @MaxSparber tweeted in response to Oberman’s announcement. “We don’t fight bad speech by deplatforming ourselves.”
“Antisemitism flourishes most in places where Jews are absent. Easy to be an ‘other’ when we’re not there,” tweeted @avishaiw. “Sooo … Gonna continue to be here. Not walking out. And I’d advise other Jews not to walk out. Sorry.”
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook are both facing boycotts from major companies that say they are pulling their advertising from the platforms in protest against hate speech online.
Sarah Personette, vice president of global client solutions at Twitter, said last month the company’s “mission is to serve the public conversation and ensure Twitter is a place where people can make human connections, seek and receive authentic and credible information, and express themselves freely and safely.”
She added that Twitter is “respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time.”
The UK walkout came as controversy erupted again, this time as US-based rapper Jay Electronica appeared to call Jews anti-Semites in a series of tweets railing against Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who recently spoke with Nick Cannon about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories mentioned on the TV star’s online show.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.