Trump envoy calls on social media companies to target anti-Semitism
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Trump envoy calls on social media companies to target anti-Semitism

Elon Carr tells religious freedom commission that Facebook, Twitter can shut down anti-Semitic content by enforcing their own terms of use

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Elan Carr speaks to the Conference of Presidents in Jerusalem, February 21, 2019. (Matty Stern|/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)
US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Elan Carr speaks to the Conference of Presidents in Jerusalem, February 21, 2019. (Matty Stern|/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s envoy for combating anti-Semitism on Wednesday called on social media companies to enforce their own terms of use more stringently to weed out anti-Semitic content online.

At a hearing on Anti-Semitism held by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Elon Carr detailed a list of proposals to curtail the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and the world, and combat the widespread dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on the web.

Carr said that most of the anti-Semitic vitriol on large social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, already violate those companies’ policies.

“Anti-Semitic speech very often violates the terms of use of these sites and platforms,” he said. “So we should be encouraging, not censorship, but for these platforms to enforce their own terms. Why wouldn’t they? If there are terms of use, they should enforce the terms of use. It’s not the government doing it, it’s them doing it.”

Inside a crowded hearing room in the  Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, Carr called the challenge of tamping down anti-Semitism online a “vexing policy challenge.” He said the goal was to effectively alleviate the problem without trespassing the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.

After participating in a meeting with the heads of the world’s largest social media companies, hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, Carr said there was a “growing awareness” of the need to address the problem.

He also said that he sensed that Washington will try to devise policy solutions if the companies don’t.

“My impression is that there is a growing awareness that this is a problem that has to be dealt with,” he told the commission. “If the tech companies don’t deal with it, the United States government may deal with it.”

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

He went on: “I deal with anti-Semitism, I’m not advocating policy or legislation here. However, I think there’s a growing realization in the tech world that the leadership of our country and our policymakers understand that something has to be done.”

Carr said that the government can do more to expose anti-Semitic activity online.

Lamenting that anti-Semitic extremists are “using the internet to spread this venom,” he said a recent investigation found that a neo-Nazi group was trying to target black Americans online and turn them against Jews in the wake of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York area blamed on African Americans.

The Trump official also turned his attention to the international community, adding  that Washington was working to ensure “that countries properly investigate, prosecute, and appropriately punish hate crimes.”

He added that “even misdemeanor crimes must be addressed because these are often the best opportunities to intervene in the life of an angry and alienated youth before he turns to violence.”

What’s more, Carr recommended a stronger posture on textbooks deemed anti-Semitic. He did not specify what constituted anti-Semitism in that context, but called for “demanding that countries remove anti-Semitic content in textbooks used in their schools. Teaching innocent children to hate other children is mass child abuse.”

At the same time, Carr said that world leaders needed to be vigilant in confronting and condemning anti-Semitic vitriol.

“We must understand that the internet has been the key infector of this disease, and we must continue to urge leaders around the world to swiftly speak out against hate speech,” he said.

US President Donald Trump has been accused of failing to castigate anti-Semites who support him politically.

Most notably, he said that “very fine people” marched alongside neo-Nazis and klansmen when they held a white power rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

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