‘We’re Doing Something Very Unique’: New Monitoring NGO Seeks to Fight Skyrocketing Online Antisemitism With Fresh Approach
With online antisemitism skyrocketing in recent years, particularly following the Israel-Gaza flare-up in May, the need to monitor and report Jew-hatred on social media sites has never been more urgent.
Last year, 28-year-old Haifa resident Tomer Aldubi — a freelance journalist for the Mako website and aspiring theater director who has written a play on the Palestinian LGBTQ community — founded a new NGO dedicated to this mission.
Aldubi sat down this week to talk about his organization, Fighting Online Antisemitism (FOA), with the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM).
Tell us about FOA and its purpose.
“We focus on monitoring content on social media platforms. Everybody who wants to fight antisemitism online can join us. We train people around the world, teaching them how to monitor and report online antisemitism, what the community standards are on the different platforms, what content should be removed, what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition means, etc.”
“We’re really an NGO based on volunteers. In just one year, we’ve succeeded in recruiting around 150 volunteers, mostly Jewish but also from other religions. Especially when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, many volunteers were happy to join, because all the monitoring can be done from home. You don’t need to go anywhere else.”
“If you speak English or French, if you prefer Facebook or Twitter, it’s up to you. Our volunteers choose where to monitor and in what language. They monitor manually, using key words and hashtags. They report the content to the different platforms, and they also report the content to us, which means we have a very extensive database of the monitored content. We store this content, and we send it for the platforms to review again.”
“Today, I truly believe that we are one of the only NGOs that monitors and stores the content, knows what is the removal rate, what content was removed, and what content was not removed. We do not just say that there is a rise in antisemitism. We know to show where, and why, and when, and we also send this to the platforms, so they can’t deny this and say it never existed. And this is why I’m so motivated, because we’re doing something that is very unique.
“This information we gather is everyone to use, it’s not just ours. We make it available so others can benefit.”
What sparked your interest in this issue?
“My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. She’s still alive, she’s 90 years old. And I was fascinated by the Holocaust. And when I was a university student, studying theater, which is another part of my life, I realized the importance of monitoring antisemitism.”
How do you communicate with social media companies and how responsive are they?
“Some of the platforms, let’s say Twitter and YouTube, and also TikTok in a way, they have specific partnerships for NGOs. We’ve found that YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program is the most efficient.”
“Besides this, we also monitor via special accounts we get through these partnerships, or a special email address we can send the material we find to.”
“Furthermore, we keep in touch with all the people who are in charge at the platforms, in Israel and abroad. We talk with them, we send them material, we send them URL links, and they answer us quite fast. They are very serious about this.”
“In our recently-published annual report, we found that only 12% of offending content was removed before it was reported. However, after we approached the platforms, meaning Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, the average removal rate more than doubled, to 26%. We send the URL links to the platforms, and we ask them to verify them, and remove them if necessary.”
“I think that’s the beginning. If more NGOs sent this content, things could be better. If the platforms received URL links to check all day long, from different NGOs around the world, they would maybe improve their mechanisms, which at the moment are not the best.”
What current trend in online antisemitism alarms you the most?
“The most concerning thing at the moment is everything that is related to the State of Israel. Today, due the policies of all the social media platforms, including LinkedIn by the way, when someone attacks the State of Israel, or calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, this content is not going to be removed, because it does not go against the policies. We have spoken with some of the platforms about this, and we’re going to speak with the others.”
“We are not a political organization in any way. We do not talk about politics, we fight antisemitism. Critique of Israel ok, but when someone calls for the destruction of Israel, they are also calling for the destruction of the people who live in Israel. Yet this content is not being removed. And on TikTok, for example, it reaches millions of viewers in five minutes. That’s why I urge platforms to expand their policies, meaning if anyone calls for the destruction of any country, this content will be deleted.”
How does your work with FOA tie in with your passion for theater?
It’s very important to fight antisemitism and also other forms of hatred, including anti-LGBTQ bigotry, which is what my play is about. This is my vision for the NGO. We talk about human rights, liberalism, pluralism, and other things of that nature.
How can people get involved in FOA’s activities?
“People can get involved from anywhere in the world, through our REACH (Remove and Eradicate Antisemitism and Cyber Hate) initiative. It’s a six-week program. We train participants to monitor and report antisemitism and to know better the online sphere, and we also talk about different forms of hate.”
“We also have webinars every month that are open to the public. Just last week, we had an LGBTQ online hate webinar.”
To learn more about Fighting Online Antisemitism (FOA), including volunteering opportunities and donation options, visit its website: foantisemitism.org/en