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On a mission to stop online anti-Semitism

  • SamTheyCant3
Eliyahou Roth was studying Talmud at a yeshiva in Israel in 2003 when he got a harsh wake-up call. A Gentile friend called him and began swearing at him, asking if it’s true that he is planning on killing Gentiles.
by SAM ANCER | May 10, 2018

When Roth asked his friend what he was talking about, his friend told him he had searched the word “Talmud” on Google and found out that it was a guide to murdering Gentiles. Roth then searched for it himself and, sure enough, 70% of the results on the front page was neo-Nazi disinformation.

This prompted Roth to launch They Can’t, a non-profit organisation dedicated to removing anti-Semitic content from the internet.

In 2013, he began by focusing on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as part of his mission to make anti-Semitic propaganda “never see the sky”. Roth initially targeted neo-Nazi content, engaging the online community to mass report it and, in so doing, draw enough attention to have the content and page removed.

In 2015, Roth shifted his focus to terrorist propaganda closer to Israel, and found it to be a completely different challenge. With neo-Nazi propaganda pages, he says, “95% of the account was dedicated to anti-Semitic hate”. But with Islamic fundamentalist anti-Semitism, he says, “in 99% of the cases, these terrorist accounts only have one terrorist post”.

As a result, he says, “it is very difficult to remove the account” as most social media platforms require multiple instances of hate speech before an account can be removed.

During his research, Roth noted that while neo-Nazi groups tended to have central hubs where disinformation could be distributed online, most Islamic fundamentalist hate speech would be posted on private accounts.

Roth believes that this is because “they are not dedicated to hating Jews, but hating Jews is natural to them”. Roth gives an example of a medical centre in Gaza, which posted a diagram of the human body with instruction (in Arabic) about where best to stab a Jew. When the Facebook page posted that image, it had more than 33 000 “likes” in response. While Roth was able to have the image removed at the time of publication, the page is still up – and has more than 70 000 “likes”.

To date, They Can’t has succeeded in removing almost 70 000 anti-Semitic posts, but Roth wants to get all anti-Semitic content off the internet. “What we are doing, or what I try to do, is remove the anti-Semites’ access. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to find anti-Semitic propaganda, you wouldn’t be able to find it.”

Roth wants to force this propaganda underground so that the average individual will be unable to stumble across it. “The internet gives these groups visibility, so we plan to shut down the visibility on social media that brings them to the mainstream.”

Searching Roth’s name on Google further proves his point. At least three of the 10 results on the first page are linked to anti-Semitic blogs, such as jewworldorder.org, which calls Roth a “parasite Jew” promoting censorship.

Roth maintains that They Can’t is not about censorship. “We are removing hate and crime, not speech.”

He admits it is not an exact science. “You have the definitions for anti-Semitism around the world, but it’s something you feel – but you must be pragmatic,” he says.

“We only target the most obvious examples of anti-Semitism so we have no question about it.”

Although he has been the subject of several hate-filled blogposts, Roth does not fear neo-Nazi groups. “I believe the guy who is volatile on the internet is not the guy who is volatile on the street.” Still, this does not mean that They Can’t has not experienced persecution, he adds.

They Can’t has been the victim of hacking attacks and doxing, a tactic used by hackers to crash a website by overrunning it with so many visits and/or information that its servers cannot handle the traffic. This was done to They Can’t by sending half a million emails in less than a day.

Also, a YouTube channel was created called ‘Slash throat of Nicole Cijs’. This account contained videos from neo-Nazis calling for They Can’t staff member Nicole Cijs to be killed. They Can’t managed to have the videos removed, but the channel is still up and has two subscribers.

Roth believes that Twitter and YouTube are not doing enough to stop the spread of hate. According to Roth, only half of the content on YouTube that is reported is taken down – and almost none of the hate content on Twitter is ever removed.

Facebook, in comparison, has taken a proactive stance, eliminating nearly all hateful comments reported. “You feel like there are people behind the screen on Facebook,” he says.

Facebook did, in fact, recently hire 7 000 people to manually review content that violates its terms of service.

According to his testimony before the US Congress last month over Facebook’s data leak scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that within 10 years, his company’s continued use of artificial intelligence will enable Facebook to detect hate speech and block it before a person has to report it. Roth disagrees. “There is no possibility that we will eliminate hate with tools,” he says.

Roth believes that it is better to empower people to tackle anti-Semitism. “(Jews) must not stand idle; they must take action online,” he says. “I’m not saying, ‘Fight them in the street’ – but rather, if you see any hateful content online, don’t just stand by. You have the tools to challenge it.”

Roth believes that there is no other choice but to fight hate. “You cannot do nothing because the guy who hates you is doing something.”

They Can’t employs four people besides Roth. They have Facebook pages in Hebrew, French and English, with thousands of followers on each. They survive off private donations and provide social media platforms with advice on how to fight the spread of hate.

Roth believes his work is vital. “We are building a generation that has access to anti-Semitic propaganda,” he says. And this is the impetus for him standing firm in his fight against anti-Semitism “We don’t cry about anti-Semitism, we don’t talk about anti-Semitism – we fight anti-Semitism.”

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