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Facebook’s COO Responds After Nearly 130 NGOs Put Platform On Notice For Unchecked Jew-Hatred

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Nearly 130 Nongovernmental organizations signed onto a letter sent Friday to chiding Facebook’s Board of Directors and requesting that the platform adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and include it in its hate speech policy.

The letter comes amid a rise in antisemitism in America and across the globe. It often rears its ugly head on social media, where users have the freedom and audience to spew hatred. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse as antisemites seize a global crisis to promote conspiracies blaming Jews for a virus that emanated from Wuhan, China.

Friday’s letter, signed by prominent advocacy groups like StopAntisemitism.org, Students Supporting Israel, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pointed to Facebook’s Director of Content Policy Stakeholder Engagement Peter Stern, who recently “admitted that Facebook does not have a policy aimed at combatting online antisemitism”…. and “that Facebook does not embrace the full adoption of the IHRA working definition because the definition recognizes that modern manifestations of antisemitism relate to Israel.”

Facebook did not respond to this reporter’s request for comment. However, the platform did respond to the signatories of the letter who asked the platform, “Will Facebook join the ranks of the historians, advocates, activists, lawmakers, and leaders who compiled the IHRA working definition? Will Facebook take responsibility and move toward removing the scourge of antisemitism from today’s most important online public square?”

On Tuesday, the letter gained the attention of Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg who wrote a response to Liora Rez of StopAntisemitism.org ensuring that the platform recognizes the IHRA definition’s value and will “continue to refine our policy lines as speech and society evolve – and appreciate your help and expertise identifying how attacks change over time.”

Copied on the response were Facebook’s Monika Bickert, Vice President of Content Policy, and Peter Stern, Director of Public Policy. In a response letter that followed, Bickert wrote to the signatories of Friday’s letter that “we address the scourge of anti-semitism through our Community Standards.”

“The holistic view of battling anti-Semitism ensures that we don’t look a series of posts or individual actors, but that we understand online and offline trends to ensure that our teams are continually on top of new and evolving threats to Jews around the world,” she wrote.

“Jewish organizations are among the stakeholders we engage in writing an updated policy to remove more implicit hate speech, including stereotypes about Jewish people as a collective controlling the media, economy, or government. The decision to remove this content draws on the spirit – and the text – of the IHRA in ways we found helpful and appropriate to protect against hate and anti-Semitic content.”

It still remains unclear if Facebook will use the IHRA definition in its official content policy. “The policy reflects both our commitment to engage and learn from the best sources of knowledge and our readiness to update our policies in line with our values,” Bickert wrote.

Bickert added that the social media site will continue working with “experts and effected communities” to continue to better understand an ever-changing form of hate. Facebook, she said, has a broad hate speech policy that covers hate against “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.”

The United States, along with 30 other countries, adopted the working definition of antisemitism on May 26, 2016, while taking part in the IHRA’s bi-annual Plenary meeting in Bucharest, Romania. Since then, the number of countries to implement the definition has grown to nearly 40 countries.

Moreover, the Trump administration included IHRA’s definition in a December 2019 Executive Order on combatting antisemitism.

IHRA definition:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

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WSJ: Corporate Dirty Pool in Washington’s Senate Race

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The Wall Street Journal’s,  Kimberly A. Strassel wrote a piece identifying how the Democrats are so worried about Washington Senator Patty Murray’s re-election “that Seattle’s corporate heavyweights are playing dirty pool on her behalf.”

Murray, a leftwing progressive, has faced little competition while in office; until now. Tiffany Smiley, a Republican nurse and entrepreneur “is pummeling Ms. Murray from every direction and laying out her own detailed reform agenda” adds the WSJ.

A RealClearPolitics average has Ms. Murray winning by 8 points. Another poll has Smiley within 2 points. Regardless, It’s close enough that “Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently transferred $500,000 of his own campaign cash to Ms. Murray’s campaign.”

Money from Schumer isn’t the only liberal panic dough. “Starbucks, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Seahawks—are actively attempting to sabotage the Smiley campaign, albeit in a distinctly underhanded fashion” writes the WSJ. “Their targets are two effective Smiley campaign ads.”

At the center of the fight are two of Smiley’s ads: “Game Day” and “Cup of Coffee.”

Strassel reports:

In “Game Day” the Republican is in a kitchen preparing to watch a football game, hitting Ms. Murray and Democrats for the spiraling cost of food. In “Cup of Coffee,” she stands in front of a derelict building. Barely visible at the top, and seen backward, is the store’s faded Starbucks sign. Ms. Smiley hits Ms. Murray for rising crime, while the ad flashes two Seattle Times headlines, one of which reads: “Starbucks to Close 5 Seattle Stores Over Safety Concerns.”

“Game Day” hit the airwaves Sept 1. Five days later, according to documents I obtained, the Smiley campaign received a terse email from the Seahawks claiming a trademark violation. The ad briefly shows Ms. Smiley’s husband, Scotty—a retired U.S. Army Ranger who was blinded by shrapnel in Iraq—expressing alarm that “even beer” prices are rising. You only see his shoulders above a tall couch—and if you get a magnifying glass you might make out a letter or two from the word “Seahawks.” The letter insisted the Smiley campaign “immediately cease” its “unauthorized commercial use.” Nothing like your local sports franchise dumping cease-and-desist orders on wounded veterans.

“Cup of Coffee” went live on Sept. 20. The next day, the Seattle Times sent an email to the “Jane Smiley” campaign—apparently without running it past its fact-checking desk—accusing it of “unauthorized use of The Seattle Times logo and two headlines” in violation of the paper’s “copyright and trademark.” It demanded the campaign remove any references to the paper not only in its own ad, but in an NBC News article about the ad’s launch.

Two days later, Starbucks sent a certified letter saying the campaign was appropriating its intellectual property, and complaining it might “create an unfounded association in the minds of consumers between Starbucks and your campaign.” It insisted the campaign either pull the ad or alter it to strip both the (barely visible, backward) sign and the Seattle Times headline referencing Starbucks.

One such letter may be the product of an overzealous lawyer, but three in a row looks like more than a coincidence. One might even wonder if some Murray staffer was putting bugs in Seattle business leaders’ ears. And while corporate political-action committees routinely play politics by making donations, it’s something else for individual companies to go to bat for a candidate via behind-the-scenes threats based on tenuous legal claims. These letters were bound to cost the Smiley campaign money and headaches and might have pushed it off the airwaves.

The campaign didn’t roll over. It made a painless accommodation to the “Game Day” ad, blurring the jersey colors to obscure anything distinct. In a legal letter sent Thursday to Starbucks, the campaign rebutted the company’s infringement claims, running through political speech protections and noting that no reasonable person would ever think a factual ad about shuttered Starbucks stores amounted to a coffee-chain endorsement. It suggested Starbucks focus on its own problems, like its recent union woes.

The Seattle Times also received a letter refuting its claims, but it got something in addition. The Smiley campaign on Thursday filed a Federal Election Commission complaint, charging the paper with providing the Murray campaign a prohibited in-kind contribution. It turns out that Ms. Murray has also used a Seattle Times headline in her ads. Her “First 2016 Ad” sports the newspaper’s logo under the headline: “Patty Murray’s and Paul Ryan’s Teamwork Is a Model for Congress.” It seems the Times has a different legal standard for candidates it endorses.

As the FEC complaint notes, the Smiley campaign would have to spend an estimated $5,000 to remove and update the ad—“costs that Patty Murray does not have to accrue.” It cites FEC regulations that provide “if a corporation makes its resources available for free, it must do so for all candidates.”

Don’t expect the Seattle corporate set to do anything on behalf of Ms. Smiley soon. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask that they do their politicking straight—and out in the open.

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