Donald Trump speaks at a press conference. Photo by Reuters

Searching for truth in an age of lies


Let’s give it up for truth. C’mon, a nice hand. It gave us a lot of good years.

Back in the day, Truth began with a capital T, and it came straight from God. Then science had a long run with it. The Enlightenment. Good times. But modernity was no piece of cake for truth. All that everything-is-relative business was shattering. As for post-modernity, let’s just say that everything-is-politics hasn’t been pretty, either. In a few thousand years, we’ve gone from Truth, to truth, to your truth and my truth, and now to the so-called truth, when everything is entertainment and the capital T goes on Twitter. No wonder truth is taking the buyout.  Let’s wish it all the best.

Last week, old school truth had its last hurrah — three hurrahs, actually: one in the East Room, one at Fox and one on Facebook. Each was prompted by an existential threat to truth, and all were ultimately about attention.

At the White House, the event was President Donald Trump’s 117-minute news conference. It was irresistible theater with the press providing the conflict, the technology feeding the spectacle to our screens and the infotainment industry monetizing our eyeballs.

At 20th Century Fox, the event was the viral marketing campaign for “A Cure for Wellness,” a movie about a fake cure that the studio promoted by faking a fake news controversy, which became a real controversy when real news hammered the campaign as an assault on journalism.

On Facebook, the event was the release of “Building Global Community,” a 5,800-word open letter from Mark Zuckerberg about the responsibility of one of the planet’s largest publishers for distributing and profiting from sensational, delicious, dangerously polarizing and totally fabricated stories.

At his news conference, Trump stated yet again that his 304-vote Electoral College tally was the biggest since Ronald Reagan. The reporters, many of whom had had it up to here with Trump’s factual negligence, were determined to answer his attack on the media by challenging his credibility. That’s what NBC’s Peter Alexander did when he respectfully ripped the president a new one. He reeled off the 365 electoral votes that Barack Obama got in 2008, and the 332 in 2012, and he mentioned the 426 that George H.W. Bush got in 1988.

“Why should Americans trust you when you have accused the information they receive of being fake,” Alexander asked, “when you’re providing information that’s fake?”

I would have loved it if Alexander had triggered a “Perry Mason” turn from Trump: “I admit it! I killed the truth! It had it coming!” If Alexander wasn’t expecting that, perhaps he anticipated that the notoriously thin-skinned president would lash out, which he did — but not until the next day, when he tweeted that the “FAKE NEWS media” — he identified them as The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS and CNN — “is the enemy of the American People!”

What Alexander got from Trump in the East Room was this: “Well, I don’t know. I was given that information. I was given — actually, I’ve seen that information around.”

Throwing his staff under the bus, Trump brushed off his credibility problem by taking his own accountability off the table. You can’t call him a liar for trusting those “best people” he’s surrounded himself with. Worse, with five words, Trump put the journalistic norms of verification and attribution in play. “I’ve seen that information around” amounts to, “It must be true — I saw it on the internet.” It also means, “Believe me.” Forget the assessment of evidence; forget weighing the independence and the track record of sources. For Trump, extreme vetting of information consists of watching Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, reading Breitbart and Infowars and basking in the buzz in the Mar-a-Lago dining room.

In that world, the old sorting categories are toast. Instead of true and false, there’s true and alt-true; there’s facts and (in Kellyanne Conway’s creepy coinage) alternate facts. Fox News is good news; bad news is fake news. Trump knows the currency of news isn’t accuracy — it’s attention. The more he tweets, the more the echo chamber uncritically amplifies him, and the more unearned gravitas his falsehoods acquire. Virality is the new veracity.

Which takes us to the Fox lot. The studio that marketed “A Cure for Wellness” by manufacturing fake fake news — you read that right — is part of the same corporation responsible for Fox News’ “fair and balanced” fakery. (If this kinship is a coincidence, randomness has a droll sense of humor.) The movie’s social media strategy was to disguise ads for the film as editorial content and post them on fabricated websites with names like the New York Morning Post and the Houston Leader.

This scam was inspired by other scammers like the Macedonian teenagers who created NewYorkTimesPolitics.com and USAPolitics.co to propagate fake stories like “Clinton Indicted” as aggregation bait for alt-right sites, as link bait for the Facebook pages of Hillary haters and as a cash cow courtesy of Google’s AdSense. Talk about meta: The movie’s fake news sites carried fake stories like “Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website,” which included real Trump tweets drawing a fake connection between vaccinations and autism.

The New York Times — “enemy of the American People” — ran two big negative stories within two days about the Fox campaign, which was yanked. But the idea that Facebook is a breeding ground for untruths was a motive for Zuckerberg, leapfrogging over Twitter’s dithering on the issue, to address a problem increasingly faced by its users: With universal access to unlimited content, how can you tell what’s true?

Most of us inhabit filter bubbles. Generally, we consume news whose framing and viewpoints we believe to be fair. At the same time, we’re suckers for sensationalism; stories arousing emotions like fear and disgust are great at grabbing our attention. But democracy is strongest and community is most robust when we’re exposed to quality information from a variety of different perspectives. To protect its users, should Facebook more aggressively screen out fake news? If “Pope Endorses Trump” gets banned, why shouldn’t “Trump’s Margin Biggest Since Reagan”?  Even when a story is accurate, showing someone an article whose perspective is opposite their own only makes them dig their heels in deeper. Should Facebook push back against polarization?

Zuckerberg answers these questions not by calling for new codes of conduct, but by promising new software code. In a world of inconceivable diversity, algorithms are more practical than ethics. Let the platform’s news feed show you a range of perspectives, not just the poles, so you can see where you fit on the spectrum. When stories spread, couple them with what fact-checking sites say about them, so text carries a context along with content. Let the analytics discover which stories are most shared without being read, most driven by attention-hijacking headlines; see if the data point to publishers who are gaming the system; and nail them.

None of this affects Facebook’s raid on the struggling news business’ bottom line. But what appeals to me about this approach is its reliance on intelligence more than on morality. Ever since Truth became truths, people have been searching for common values that don’t depend on divine authority. “The best life is not the moral life, but the life based on the use of reason” — that’s Israel Drazin’s gloss on Moses Maimonides.

Give truth a gold watch for its long service to civilization, but don’t leave the adjudicator position vacant. Education, media literacy, critical thinking, breadth of sources, caliber of intelligence, quality of craft — there’s no shortcut to information you can rely on.

Thinking is hard. Truth is complicated. Focus is fragile. No question: Tweets are superb at stealing our attention, but it’s no accident that birdbrain is not a compliment.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com

Fighting sexual assault: An idea for Mark Zuckerberg


Dear Mark,

It’s been an ugly year. The recent release of a “hot mic” recording of presidential candidate Donald Trump, in which he bragged about forcing himself on women, was disgusting, although not shocking. It was in keeping with the coarseness we’ve come to expect from this election season. But it did signify a tipping point, a sense that we’ve reached a rock bottom of ugliness, with much of the country asking, “How much more of this can we take?”

In the Jewish tradition, we are called upon to repair the world as best we can. Regardless of how ugly or dark things get, it is our duty to confront squarely the ills of our world and try to make things better.

The national firestorm that has been lit on the issue of sexual abuse gives us a unique opportunity to address this societal plague. Every 109 seconds in the United States, someone gets sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Justice. The majority of victims are women 18 to 34 years old.

As horrible as these statistics sound, this is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s been with us since time immemorial. What’s different now is the mass awareness that comes from the digital universe. Any enterprising activist who wants to highlight a cause can now do so and reach millions of people virtually overnight.

Take the case of Canadian author Kelly Oxford. A week ago, in the wake of the Trump revelations, she tweeted, “Women: tweet me your first assaults.” Well, within a few days, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited her Twitter page.

Twenty-seven million! That’s almost the total population of Canada. Here were millions of women who were given a chance to finally come out of the shadows and share their dark, lingering trauma of sexual abuse. They were given a chance to share their stories with the world.

The glare of social media is the modern-day silver lining for society’s dark ills. It can take ugly causes we’d rather not deal with and force us to look at them. But this glare can come and go. What we’re seeing now with sexual abuse is only a spark. We must seize this moment of awareness before the spark dies.

Which is why I’m writing to you to share an idea. What this cause needs right now is to enter the mainstream in a big way. It needs to connect with 100 million people simultaneously and cement its core message permanently in the country’s consciousness.

The most efficient way to do that is with a memorable commercial during the Super Bowl.

Can you think of a better vehicle than the Super Bowl to convey the message that boasting about sexual assault is not locker room banter? Can you think of a better way to unify the country than with such an emotional and bipartisan cause? And can you think of a better time to do this than this coming February — as we all try to heal from a horrible and divisive 18 months?

If you agree that this is a good idea, I can offer to put together a “dream team” to produce the commercial. I have a background in advertising, so I’ve seen the power of good commercials to shake people up. One simple and strong concept I heard recently to fight sexual assault is, “Imagine if this was your daughter.” There are plenty of others. 

The point is, just like the famous commercials in history that still resonate to this day — such as Apple’s “1984” and “This is your brain on drugs” — this commercial must do the same.

After making a splash on the Super Bowl, the message can then spread on social media, beginning, I would imagine, with your billion Facebook friends. This would make it a movement. For a call to action, we could include the website for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

So, why am I addressing this idea to you? It’s not just because you obviously have the financial means and media clout to make it happen, but because of something you and your wife wrote in a letter to your newborn daughter last December.

“Your mother and I don’t have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future,” you wrote. “Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”

One way to create this better world would be to dramatically reduce the incidence of sexual assaults against women. That’s the kind of future all daughters of the world deserve, including yours and mine.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish British lawmaker under police protection following anti-Semitic death threat


A Jewish member of the British Parliament was put under police protection following an anti-Semitic death threat on Facebook.

The message from July repeatedly called Ruth Smeeth a “Yid” and said “the gallows would be a fine and fitting place” for the Labour Party lawmaker to “swing from,” the Jewish Chronicle reported last week. It also expressed strong support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is in an election battle to remain in his post.

Smeeth, 37, told the British media that she holds Corbyn personally responsible for the actions of his supporters.

“I expect Jeremy to show true leadership, which means calling out individuals at times by name to say what they are doing it is unacceptable,” she told the British Sun newspaper last week. “He must stand up and say enough is enough, and he has done nowhere near enough yet.”

Smeeth, who represents a district in Stoke-on-Trent, the largest city in western England’s Staffordshire County, reportedly has received 25,000 abusive or anti-Semitic posts. She had panic buttons and CCTV surveillance cameras installed in her home, the Chronicle reported.

Corbyn, who has called Hezbollah and Hamas “friends,” has been accused of fostering an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

According to the BBC, the threat to Smeeth was issued soon after she fled the launch of Labour’s report into anti-Semitism in tears after being accused by an activist of colluding with the right-wing press.

Jewish students at SF Bay Area high school threatened on social media


At least one arrest has been made after threats to Jewish students at a high school in the San Francisco Bay Area were posted on social media.

Extra security surrounded the Fremont High campus in Sunnyvale, California, when students returned to school after the long holiday weekend, the local NBC affiliate reported. The threat was also made against students at Homestead High School in Cupertino, San Francisco television station KRON reported. Both schools are in Silicon Valley.

Administrators were contacted by several students and their families about the anonymous threat posted on Instagram. They did not disclose the specific threat, NBC reported.

School officials reportedly did not believe the threat was credible but contacted police.

The Fremont principal called the threat a “religious rant” targeting Jewish students, KRON reported.

Meanwhile, school opened without incident in Spartanburg County, in upstate South Carolina, following the Labor Day weekend after Jewish and Muslim students were threatened on social media.

Extra security was put in place Tuesday around James Byrnes High School and the other 11 schools in the district after a student reported the “extremely vulgar” threats toward Jewish and Muslim students at Byrnes High to the county Sheriff’s Office on Friday night.

The threats, which appeared on Facebook, warned that the high school would be attacked Tuesday and included pictures of a person in a gas mask and a knife with a swastika on the handle, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Mark Zuckerberg and wife sell $95 million in Facebook shares to fund philanthropy


Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, sold company shares valued at nearly $95 million to fund their charitable efforts.

The funds reportedly were sold by the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation and CZI Holdings LLC, both owned by the couple, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

The price of the shares ranged from $122.85 to $124.31. The sale reportedly was scheduled months ago to avoid insider trading issues.

Late last year Zuckerberg and Chan pledged to give away 99 percent of their shares in the company “during our lives” to charity. The pledge, then worth approximately $45 billion, came in a Facebook post on Dec. 1, 2015, announcing the birth of their daughter, Max.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was formed to fund charities, companies and policies for “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” according to its website.

“We will make long-term investments over 25, 50 or even 100 years because our greatest challenges require time to solve,” the site said.

The initiative is a limited liability corporation instead of a foundation, which allows it to participate in public advocacy and invest in businesses or other entities whose profits will be used to support the initiative’s work, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Hezbollah created Palestinian terror cells on Facebook, Israel says after bust


Israeli security services in the past few months broke up two Palestinian terror cells formed on Facebook by Hezbollah, according to officials.

Nine suspected cell members were arrested earlier this summer, but information about the case was kept under court-ordered gag order until Tuesday.

Working out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, operatives for the Lebanon-based terrorist group recruited residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel through Facebook and other social media sites, the Shin Bet security service said.

“The Hezbollah organization has recently made it a priority to try to spark terror acts, doing so from far away, while attempting to not clearly expressing its involvement,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

The West Bank terror cells, which received Hezbollah funding, planned to conduct suicide bombings and ambush Israeli army patrols in the West Bank, according to the Shin Bet. They had begun preparing explosive devices for attacks, said the security service, which claimed credit for thwarting attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and Israel.

After recruiting ringleaders on Facebook, Hezbollah and the recruits switched to encrypted communications to avoid detection, and the ringleaders went on to recruit other members, according to the Shin Bet.

The Shin Bet said it also detected multiple attempts by Hezbollah to recruit Israeli Arabs through a Facebook profile that featured anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian posts.

In response to the Shin Bet’s announcement, Israel’s United Nations ambassador, Danny Danon, called on the body to formally recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

On Facebook, Abbas’ Fatah boasts of killing 11,000 Israelis


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party on Facebook cited killing 11,000 Israelis as an example of its many achievements.

The post appeared Tuesday on the party’s official Facebook page, according to Palestine Media Watch.

The list does not mention the Oslo Accords or any other peace talks or negotiations, listing only acts of violence and terror, according to PMW, which described the 11,000 figure as a “gross exaggeration.”

Since the wave of renewed violence that began in October, Israel has accused Fatah of inciting violence against Israelis on social media and other venues.

Tuesday’s post notes that Fatah “has sacrificed 170,000 martyrs,” and that it was the first to carry out terrorist attacks during the first intifada, which began in 1987.

It also claims Fatah was the first to fight in the second intifada and that it “was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy,” referring to a battle between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah’s forerunner)in Jordan in 1968. Both sides claimed to have won the battle.

Fatah posted a similar text on its Facebook page in 2014, according to PMW.

Families of US citizens killed in Israel terror attacks sue Facebook for $1 billion


The families of five American citizens killed in terror attacks in Israel are suing Facebook for $1 billion, accusing the social network of providing material support to Hamas for its incitement and violence.

Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, an advocacy organization based in Israel, filed the lawsuit Sunday night in Manhattan federal court. The suit alleges that Facebook is violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by assisting terror groups such as Hamas in “recruiting, radicalizing, and instructing terrorists, raising funds, creating fear and carrying out attacks.”

The lead plaintiffs have been identified as Stuart and Robbi Force, the parents of Taylor Force, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and a U.S. Army veteran who was killed in March in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv. Force had been on a school trip to Israel to study the tech industry.

The other plaintiffs are the relatives of dual Israel and U.S. citizens, including the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who was kidnapped from a West Bank bus stop and murdered along with two other Israeli teens in June 2014; the parents of Chaya Zissel Braun, 3 months, who was killed in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem in October 2014; the son of Richard Lakin, 76, killed in a stabbing attack on a bus in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem; and Menachem Mendel Rivkin, who was seriously wounded in a January stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” the plaintiffs alleged in a statement issued to the media. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

Facebook did not comment on the lawsuit when asked by several news outlets.

Since September, 34 Israelis and two American tourists have been killed in a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets.

Shurat HaDin was part of a class-action lawsuit filed last October by 20,000 Israelis against Facebook in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn claiming that Facebook posts have inspired many recent terror attacks.

According to that suit, “Facebook’s algorithms and platform connect inciters to terrorists who are further encouraged to perpetrate stabbings and other violence attacks against Israelis.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s Hawaii wall irks neighbors


Billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is angering neighbors with the privacy settings he’s building at his Hawaii vacation property.

Zuckerberg is building a 6-foot-tall wall around his waterfront property on the island of Kauai, and his neighbors in Kilauea say it is blocking their ocean views and breezes, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

“The feeling of it is really oppressive. It is immense,” neighbor Gy Hall said.

Neighbors told the Hawaii newspaper they are also upset that he began construction without first consulting them and that they written to Zuckerberg but received no reply. Hall said that signs placed on the wall explaining the neighbors’ concerns were quickly ripped down.

Shosana Chantara, a Kilauea resident, said the wall is blocking air circulation.

“You take a solid wall that’s 10 or more feet above the road level, the breeze can’t go through,” she said.

Another neighbor, Donna McMillen, said: “I’m 5-foot-8 and when I’m walking, I see nothing but wall. It just doesn’t fit in with the natural beauty that we have here.”

Zuckerberg, 32, purchased the 700-acre Hawaii estate for $200 million in 2014. He is the sixth richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine’s most recent ranking of billionaires, as well as the world’s wealthiest Jewish person.

Maria Maitino, another Kilauea resident, told the Hawaii paper that she doesn’t understand why the wall is so high, adding it “doesn’t feel neighborly.”

Neighbor Thomas Beebe, however, defended the wall in a text message to West Hawaii Today, saying it “appropriately makes use of local materials and serves as a tasteful reminder of an ancient method of defining boundaries.”

It’s not clear when construction will be done or whether it will encircle the entire property, and Zuckerberg has not commented on it.

He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in December that they will donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares over the course of their lifetimes.

Humans of New York showcases the adorable way a Jewish journalist teaches his sons about charity


Steven I. Weiss has been praised for his work as a reporter and now as the director of original programming and new media at The Jewish Channel, a national cable outlet focused on Jewish news and culture.

But it’s safe to say he has never had this many likes on Facebook.

Weiss and his two young boys appeared on Father’s Day this past Sunday in a post on the wildly popularHumans of New York Facebook page — which provides glimpses into the interesting lives of everyday New Yorkers. Its posts routinely garner hundreds of thousands of likes.

 

In the post, one of Weiss’ sons explains the system his dad has created to teach him about the importance of charity and managing money. He gets one dollar of allowance from his parents each week, and he has to choose a “section” to put it under: spend, save, donate or invest. If he chooses to “invest” the allowance, his parents give him two extra pennies for each dollar at the end of the month (mimicking a small-scale return on investment). But he tends to put his money in the “donate” section.

“I have way over $10 in my ‘invest section.’ I used to have more but I took some money out and put it in my ‘donate section.’ We used to it to buy food for people who don’t have much money in their ‘spend section,’” Weiss’ unnamed son says in the post.

By Tuesday afternoon the post had received almost 800,000 likes. “Way to teach his kids both how to be economic and compassionate at the same time,” wrote one of the more than 21,000 people who left comments.  “A lot of adults today seem to have missed out on that lesson.”

The post contains an important message that resonates far beyond Father’s Day. Read it in full here.

Hackers hit two Mark Zuckerberg social media accounts


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had some of his social media accounts hacked.

Zuckerberg’s Twitter and Pinterest accounts were hacked Sunday by a hacker group called OurMine, according to reports.

The group reportedly discovered Zuckerberg’s password during a breach in the LinkedIn database. His password reportedly was not very strong – the hackers said it was “dadada” — and was used on multiple accounts, which are cardinal social media sins. He also reportedly had not used those accounts very often.

The hackers tweeted from Zuckerberg’s Twitter account and changed the title of his Pinterest page. Both accounts later were returned to Zuckerberg and the posts were deleted.

Hackers also claim they have accessed Zuckerberg’s Instagram account, a Facebook-owned application on which Zuckerberg is active.

Jewish groups welcome Facebook, Twitter pledge to crack down on hate speech


Jewish groups welcomed a pledge by four internet giants to crack down on online hate speech, though some questioned the firms’ commitment to act.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on Tuesday signed a code of conduct with the European Commission that requires them to delete the majority of reported illegal hate speech within 24 hours, The Telegraph reported.

The European Jewish Congress offered an “enthusiastic welcome” to code of conduct” in a statement Tuesday. The World Jewish Congress reacted more coolly in a statement the same day, voicing “skepticism about the commitment of these firms to effectively police their respective platforms.”

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others “already have clear guidelines in place aimed at preventing the spread of offensive content, yet they have so far utterly failed to properly implement their own rules,” the CEO of the World Jewish Congress, Robert Singer said in the statement.

“Tens of thousands of despicable video clips continue to be made available although their existence has been reported to YouTube and despite the fact that they are in clear violation of the platform’s own guidelines prohibiting racist hate speech … Nonetheless, YouTube gives the impression that it has been cracking down on such content. Alas, the reality is that so far it hasn’t.”

Last week, France’s Union of Jewish Students, or UEJF, and the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme sued Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content, Le Parisien reported.

The two groups, together with SOS Homophobie, said that on March 31 and May 10, they found 586 examples of such content. Only 4 percent of the content was deleted by Twitter, 7 percent by YouTube and 34 percent by Facebook, the groups said.

In 2013, the Paris Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling forcing Twitter to block the hashtag #UnBonJuif — which means “a good Jew” — and to remove the thousands of associated anti-Semitic tweets that violated France’s law against hate speech.

The ruling was a turning point in the fight against online hate speech in France and beyond because it caused Twitter to abandon its previous policy of applying as little censorship as is permissible in the United States, where Twitter’s head office is based and where there are fewer limitations on free speech than in many countries in Europe.

YouTube has since permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews.

In 2014, Facebook removed the page of Soral, the Holocaust denier, for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years.

Despite complaints of partial compliance on hate speech removal by the internet giants, European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor, celebrated the accord Tuesday as “a historic agreement that could not arrive at a better time.” It is “very important” that governments and online companies “work in tandem to make the internet a safer space for all,” he said.

The President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, was also optimistic, saying in a statement that “Internet hate leads to a culture of fear. We hope that today’s announcement will be the first step in combatting that culture.”

Why it’s so funny that Republicans are upset with Facebook for ‘censoring’ news


America’s right wing is in a froth this week following allegations that Facebook has tweaked its “trending news” feed to reduce the visibility of conservative news sites. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. As of now, this report from Gizmodo, which is owned by Gawker Media, is based on anonymous sources, making it impossible to trust. 

Nonetheless, conservatives and Republicans in Congress have seized on the report as only the latest evidence of overall liberal media bias against their cause. Sen. John Thune, the Republican chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has demanded answers from Facebook and, no doubt, will invite Mark Zuckerberg and/or his minions to explain themselves.

But the deeper issue is undeniably real: Facebook is the dominant member of a small number of giant entities—corporate and governmental—that are gaining control over the flow of news, freedom of expression, and a lot more in our digital lives. Yet the conservatives who dominate the Republican Congress and big-business groups have done their best to thwart policies that would encourage the kind of competition we need to challenge that increasingly centralized control. 

Almost no one wants to address the fact that Facebook is becoming a monopoly in the antitrust sense of the word. No, it doesn’t control all conversation. But Facebook is by far the most widely used venue for these conversations, and its power grows daily. Along with Google, it dominates online advertising; Facebook especially does so on mobile devices, which are the way many people connect to the Internet. If you offer news and information online, you have almost no choice but to play on Facebook’s field, because so much of your audience is there. (In some parts of the world, Facebook essentially is the Internet, because mobile devices are pretty much the sole means of online access and in some cases the company has made deals with local telecommunications companies and/or governments.)

Facebook has been buying everything that presents even a whiff of competition: Instagram, WhatsApp, Occulus, among others. This is smart—no one can dispute that Zuckerberg and the others on his team are brilliant technologists and strategists—but it’s also a red flag. As Zuckerberg famously said several years ago, he wants Facebook to be “like electricity” in terms of ubiquity and people’s needs. Well, electricity is a utility. And we regulate utilities.

Monopolies and cozy oligopolies never turn out well in the long run for anyone but the monopolists or cartel members. They end up controlling markets and do their best to thwart genuine competition. It’s their nature.

Which is why capitalism, plainly the best system when it’s working right, needs rules to promote competition. It’s why we have antitrust laws and other processes, including regulation, designed to blunt the dominant companies’ normal predations. Yes, the dominant players tend to capture the regulators, but that’s a failure of function, not of pro-competition theory.

Yet Republicans in general think the government should play little to no role in promoting competition. They consider antitrust inquiry and enforcement to be counterproductive, at best—except, of course, when a powerful constituent (a corporation, usually) is in danger from predatory behavior.

That attitude accounts for the GOP’s cheerleading for corporate dominance of Internet access. Republicans in general are fine with the idea that one or two companies (say the leading cable provider and another telecom) should control access in most communities, and utterly opposed to a remedy—what we call network neutrality—to ensure that people at the edges of networks, not dominant Internet service providers, should decide what information they want and at what priority.

I don’t want the government to tell Facebook what it can publish, and don’t look forward to much more than posturing from Thune and his compatriots. But I do want the government to start paying extremely close attention to the way the company is becoming a monopoly, and what it means for freedom of expression when a single company has so much power over what people say online. I want government to use antitrust and other pro-competition laws to ensure that Facebook doesn’t abuse its dominance in a business sense. I want government(s) to promote open technology and communications, and fierce competition at every level. Kudos to Zuckerberg for making Facebook so appealing to millions of users; that’s an amazing achievement.  But we can’t allow Facebook to leverage that success to block the emergence of alternatives to its service, or use its market power to influence or alter the content of publications and others trying to communicate with Facebook users.

We all need to wake up to the potential threat Facebook poses to freedom of expression. Once you are in its enclosed online space, it is the corpororation’s terms of service, not the First Amendment, that determines what you can say. If it decides to downplay speech it doesn’t like, Facebook has the right to do so.

So I’m glad that conservatives are concerned, even if the allegations prove overblown. (On Tuesday, Facebook modified its outright denial from Monday to a “we’re looking into it” stance; stay tuned.)  I’d be even happier if conservatives realized that government does have a role in promoting genuine competition—and that we’re in uncharted information-freedom territory under the new control freaks of Silicon Valley.

Dan Gillmor teaches digital media literacy at Arizona State University. He is the author of Mediactive.

This article was written for Future Tense, a Zócalo partner.

 

France’s Jewish student union joins hate-speech suit against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube


France’s Union of Jewish Students has joined two other French groups in suing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content.

SOS Racisme, France’s largest anti-racism group, and SOS Homophobie, a gay rights movement, announced Sunday in a statement that they were taking legal action against the three social media platforms, according to reports.

In a social media survey from March 31 to May 10, the groups said they found on those sites “586 examples of content that is racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic, denies the Holocaust or seeks to justify terrorism or crimes against humanity.”

Denying the Holocaust, justifying terrorism, and propagating racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic messages are illegal in France.

The survey found Twitter removed eight of the 205 “hate messages” flagged to administrators and YouTube took down 16 of 225 items, while Facebook removed 53 of 156 messages identified to the site by the groups, according to The Telegraph.

“In light of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook’s profits and how little taxes they pay, their refusal to invest in the fight against hate is unacceptable,” UEJF President Sacha Reingewirtz wrote in a blog post.

Belgian Jew injured in Brussels attacks becomes Facebook ‘voice of the wounded’


In a series of Facebook posts from his hospital bed, a Belgian Jew has documented his recovery from the Brussels terrorist attacks — and become a national symbol of resilience and reconciliation.

Walter Benjamin lost his right foot in the March 22 explosion at Zaventem Airport, one of three suiciding bombings that rocked the Belgian capital that day, killing 32 people and wounding more than 300. His Facebook posts have since been shared thousands of times.

Belgian dignitaries, like King Philippe, Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui and national Muslim board president Salah Echallaoui, have visited him in the hospital.

The religious leaders together visited Benjamin on April 3 in response to a call he made on Facebook for unity and reconciliation between the Jewish and Muslim communities of Belgium. Benjamin has also been interviewed by the RTBF Belgian broadcaster, the Channel 2 news channel in Israel and The Associated Press, which called him “the voice of the wounded.”

Benjamin, a 47-year-old matchmaker for a dating agency, was on his way to visit his 16-year-old daughter in Israel when he was hit by the second of two explosions at the airport. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.

Along with chronicling his convalescence, Benjamin has since criticized the government’s failure to prevent the attacks but expressed confidence in Belgian society’s ability to transcend them.

“Together, we will labor so that our two communities will move things toward a unified Belgium,” he wrote about Belgian Jews and Muslims.

Benjamin wrote his life was saved by Belgians who make up a portrait of “our beautiful country,“ including a Muslim airport technician, Hassan Elouafi, who let Benjamin call his mother immediately after the attack to tell her he was alive; a Flemish soldier who stopped Benjamin’s bleeding, and an ambulance crew paramedic, Louis, who got Benjamin to the hospital on time and kept him conscious by talking to him all the way.

Twitter praised for cracking down on use by Islamic State


Officials with the nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center praised Twitter Inc on Monday for increasing efforts to thwart Islamic State's use of its platform for recruitment and propaganda.

The center's Digital Terrorism and Hate Project gave Twitter a grade of “B” in a report card of social networking companies' efforts to fight online activity by militant groups such as ISIS.

“We think they are definitely heading in the right direction,” the project's director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, told Reuters in a telephone interview ahead of Monday's release of the report card at a press conference in New York.

He said the review was based on steps that Twitter has already taken and information that center staff learned in face-to-face meetings with company representatives.

Islamic State has long relied on Twitter to recruit and radicalize new adherents. The Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization, has been one of toughest critics of the Twitter's strategy for combating those efforts.

Some vocal Twitter critics have tempered their views since December, when the site revised its community policing policies, clearly stating that it banned “hateful conduct” that promotes violence against specific groups and would delete offending accounts.

Researchers with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism last month reported that Islamic State's English-language reach on Twitter stalled last year amid a stepped-up crackdown by the company against the extremist group's army of digital proselytizers.

The center gave Twitter grade of “C” in a report card last year, which covered efforts to fight terrorism along with hate speech. This year it gave two grades, awarding Twitter a “D” on hate speech, saying the company needed to do more to censor the accounts of groups that promote hate.

A Twitter spokesman declined comment, but pointed to a statement on the company's blog posted Feb. 5 on combating violent extremism.

“We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” Twitter said in the blog.

Among other major Internet firms included in this year's survey, Facebook Inc got an “A-” for terrorism and a “B-” for hate. Alphabet Inc's  YouTube got a “B-” for terrorism and a “D” for hate.

Facebook facing German antitrust investigation


Germany's cartel office is investigating Facebook for suspected abuse of market power over breaches of data protection laws in the first formal probe of the social network for violating competition rules.

The watchdog said it suspected Facebook's terms of service regarding how the company makes use of users' data may abuse its possibly dominant position in the social networking market. It planned to examine whether users were properly informed about how their personal data would be obtained by the company.

Facebook, the world's biggest social network with 1.6 billion monthly users, earns revenues from advertising based on data it gathers about its users' social connections, opinions and activities in their postings.

“For advertising-financed Internet services such as Facebook, user data are hugely important,” Federal Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt said.

“For this reason it is essential to also examine under the aspect of abuse of market power whether the consumers are sufficiently informed about the type and extent of data collected.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “We are confident that we comply with the law and we look forward to working with the Federal Cartel Office to answer their questions.”

The company has faced criticism from politicians and regulators in Germany, where data protection is strictly regulated, over its privacy practices and its slow response to anti-immigrant postings by neo-Nazi sympathisers.

Co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Berlin on a charm offensive last week.

“We welcome the approach of the Cartel office,” Hamburg Data Protection Commissioner Johannes Caspar told Reuters. “Whoever has power over user data gets market power and vice versa.”

EU officials have also expressed support for the view that Facebook's use of data might expose it to regulatory action on competition grounds.

The cartel office said it was coordinating its probe with the European Commission, competition authorities in other European Union states, data protection authorities in Germany and consumer rights groups.

French and Irish competition regulators said they were not actively involved with the German case. A spokesman for the Belgian competition authority declined to comment on whether it was cooperating with the German probe, while the British regulator was not immediately reachable.

“This is an unusual case in many respects,” said Mark Watts, head of data protection at London-based law firm Bristows.

He said it was the first time the volume of personal data a company held was such a significant factor in an investigation into whether a company has abused its dominant position.

Facebook owns four of the top eight social network services globally including its core profile service, two separate instant messaging services, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and its photo and video-sharing social network service Instagram.

Facebook has nearly the twice the number of users as the world's second largest social network, Tencent's QQ of China. Nearly 84 percent of the members of Facebook's core social network are outside the United States and Canada, which generated half its nearly $18 billion in revenues last year.

Companies can theoretically face a fine of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover by the German competition regulator if they are found to have abused a dominant market position. But the cartel office has never leveled a maximum penalty.

BIG DATA

European regulators have begun debating the role that vast collections of “big data” – collected from billions of Web searches, messages and other online interactions – give Internet giants in marketing and commerce and how such data makes it difficult for smaller businesses to compete in those areas.

“User data is often the currency which consumers pay for supposedly free services,” said Klaus Mueller, chairman of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. “Consumers have no adequate alternative. They can't just transfer their user data to other portals.”

The cartel office had already signaled last month it was ready to consider data protection issues as raising potential competition concerns.

European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said the EU executive shared the view of the German cartel office that the mere infringement of data protection rules by a dominant company did not automatically amount to a competition violation.

“However, it cannot be excluded that a behavior that violates data protection rules could also be relevant when investigating a possible violation of EU competition rules,” he added, while declining specific comment on the new case.

Speaking in Germany in January, top EU antitrust enforcer Margrethe Vestager said her agency was taking a harder look at whether the collection of vast amounts of consumer data by big Internet companies violates competition rules.

By contrast, U.S. privacy law enforcement remains limited to gross privacy violations where it can be show companies failed to properly safeguard customer information.

The EU has accused Facebook rival Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, of favoring its own shopping services in search results at the expense of rivals, and is weighing possible sanctions against the world's most popular search engine.

However, the commission previously considered and rejected big data issues when it approved Google's acquisition of online advertising firm DoubleClick in 2008 and Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp in 2014.

Bernie Sanders reaches out to Israelis on Facebook, gets an earful


Bernie Sanders’ campaign issued a message of multicultural unity last week, posting graphics on social media that read, “Not me, us,” in 14 different languages.

Facebook users generally responded positively to the posts, which in each language feature a silhouette of Sanders — fist raised — comprising smaller silhouettes of various shapes and colors. Israelis, though, were less impressed.

One French commenter wrote, “I love Senator Sanders’ campaign.” A Dutch person responded, “America needs a president like Sanders.” An Italian said, “I hope I will wake up tomorrow on Lake Como to a Bernie victory.” It was more of the same in Spanish, German, Arabic, etc.

Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, the comments on the Hebrew version of the post — which says “Lo ani, anachnu” — are sarcastic, skeptical and mocking of the graphic and of the Independent senator from Vermont’s socialist platform.

Photo is screen shot from Facebook

Here are a few choice examples:

“These things are the connecting thread between socialism and nationalism/fascism — seeing a person only as part of a collective.”

“If an old Jewish person wants criminal justice to be reformed, then he is advocating for pedophiles. As a camp counselor, I believe Zaidy Sanders is a threat for young children. Leave him to moan in the locker room, that’s where he belongs.”

“You guys do realize that when he crashes the economy, people are gonna blame Jews? One of the reasons why we’ve done so good here is because when something goes wrong people blame the president, not the Jews. Well, what happens when the president is a Jew?”

“But socialism increases racism and hate as it places every sector’s hand in the other’s pocket, and everyone’s hand into his friend’s pocket, which creates animosity between different groups in society.”

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the other hand, the Hebrew post has nearly 1,500 likes and over 500 shares. Maybe the kvetchers are just louder than the kvellers.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg surpasses Koch brothers, now world’s 6th wealthiest person


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the richest Jewish person in the world, has become the sixth-wealthiest overall.

Zuckerberg, 31, has a net worth of $47.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, slightly ahead of the Koch brothers’ fortune valued at $45.9 billion, Bloomberg Business reported last week.

He moved past the Kochs when his fortune rose $6 billion in trading Thursday, when Facebook reported record earnings. In October, Zuckerberg was listed No. 8 on the Bloomberg index.

Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos or Carlos Slim are the top 5 on the index.

Among Jews, Zuckerberg is ahead of Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who is No. 10 overall.

In December, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced plans to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charity over their lifetimes.

Free speech, hate speech: Where’s the line at UCLA?


Where does UCLA draw the line when it comes to speech and conduct protected by the First Amendment? When are words and actions punishable according to university standards?

Those are questions some Jewish and pro-Israel UCLA students and faculty have been asking since Lisa Marie Mendez, a UCLA student and former work-study employee at the UCLA Medical Center, posted multiple blatantly racist, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments on the Facebook page of Jewish actress Mayim Bialik, and on that of the group Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at UCLA. Mendez wrote posts that drew attention on Dec. 9, 10 and 11. 

“Go Murder some Palestinian children so you can have their parents arrested and move into their home,” Mendez wrote. “Greedy lifeless pieces of s— people. Capitalist colonizers who steal and kill from other races to promote your dead ideologies.”

“F—ing Jews,” she wrote. “GTFOH [Get the f— out of here] with all your Zionist bulls—, ” Mendez wrote.

“I live in the ghetto, and if you’re a Jew, you’re white. Not black, not middle eastern [sic], not Asian — white. Being a Jew is not a race — it’s a faith system that keeps you inbreeding long enough to believe you’re preserving your race, and keeps you thinking you’re entitled to take someone else’s land.” 

There’s much more, and her posts can still be found on Facebook and other websites. 

After SSI posted on its Facebook page an alert to Mendez’s comments, demanding a public condemnation from UCLA, Mendez (who changed her Facebook profile’s name to “Zatanna Zatarra,” a comic book superheroine) wrote a comment that reads, in part, “I can imagine that colonialists like you can’t have people like me with good jobs, especially when behind closed doors you treat us all like slaves. I’m Mexican, my family is from the land we stand on. You’re the foreigners, locusts who steal resources and oppress people … I work with you people everyday. I go to school with your rotten children who have screamed obscenities in my face … You never had your family dragged out of your house by the cops, or had to witness your children gunned down by them, have your family destroyed when they are deported, etc.”

Mendez did not immediately respond to an email or private Facebook message from the Journal requesting comment.

On Dec. 16, Janina Montero, UCLA’s vice chancellor for student affairs, sent an email to UCLA’s 42,000 students condemning Mendez and her comments, without naming her. “The hurtful and offensive comments displayed ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people, insensitivity and a disappointing lack of empathy. Bigotry against the Jewish people or other groups is abhorrent,” Montero wrote.

On Dec. 17, Kelsey Martin, interim dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, wrote a letter “in regard to the reprehensible anti-Semitic Facebook post allegedly made by a student who also has a work study position in the University Health System.” Martin strongly condemned Mendez’s posts, but added that UCLA “cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University and the medical school finds it.”

In an interview this week, Liat Menna, president of SSI at UCLA, who was first to draw public awareness to Mendez’s posts, said she’s disappointed with UCLA’s reaction and believes its decision not to punish Mendez is inconsistent with its interim suspension of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority after they held a “Kanye Western” themed party on Oct. 6, during which, according to the Daily Bruin student newspaper, partygoers wore baggy clothes, plumped lips and dressed as “Kardashians.” 

There is “110 percent inconsistency between them suspending a group that indirectly attacked a minority and [not punishing] an individual who directly and blatantly attacked a minority group,” Menna said. “Had it been any other minority group on campus they would’ve taken it, I think, with greater heaviness, and would’ve put on an investigation to see when and where she was posting online.”

On Oct. 8, UCLA released a statement titled “UCLA statement on ‘Kanye West’-themed fraternity party,” in which it stated, in part, “Both Greek organizations allegedly involved have been placed on immediate interim suspension of all social activities pending the outcome of the investigation. While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community.”

But on Jan. 12, a new explanation emerged for the groups’ suspensions, when UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez sent a statement to the Journal, explaining that the two Greek organizations were suspended not for the content of the party itself, but “for violating policies on properly registering a campus event,” adding that the sanctions on the fraternity and sorority end the week of Jan. 10.

“They were sanctioned for failing to properly register a social event,” the statement says. “The sanctions issued were consistent with those imposed for similar violations of Interfraternity and Panhellenic council standards. There is a difference between sanctions imposed on a registered student group for violating procedures when hosting a campus-related social activity and an individual expressing her own personal views on social media.”

On Jan. 7, in response to a request from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), UCLA wrote another letter condemning Mendez’s “reprehensible anti-Semitic comments,” adding that she “previously” had a work-study position within UCLA’s health system — a position that, according to her Facebook page, she began in October. Vasquez told the Journal on Jan. 12 that Mendez is not currently employed by the university, but did not give a reason.

The ADL’s published response on the matter stated there’s no evidence to suggest Mendez made the posts while at the medical center, or that she discriminated against Jews at work.

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, a UCLA sophomore and vice president of Bruins for Israel, applauded the administration for quickly responding to Mendez’s Facebook posts, but said she is skeptical that “a response from the administration is going to actually change the realities on the ground for the experiences of Jewish students.”

Shimon Peres on Facebook: I’m not quite dead yet


Amid rumors of his death, Shimon Peres took to social media to reassure the public he was very much alive.

Rumors flew around social media Monday that the 92-year-old Peres had died, starting on Whatsapp groups and snowballing from there.

“I wish to thank the citizens of Israel for the support, concern and interest, and wish to clarify that the rumors are false,” Peres said in a Facebook post. “I’m continuing with my daily schedule as usual to do whatever I can to assist The State of Israel and its citizens.”

Peres retired as president of Israel in 2014 after more than half a century in public life.

It is believed the death of someone else named Shimon Peres may have sparked the rumors.

Zuckerberg, in Facebook post, extends support to Muslim community


Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg extended his support to the Muslim community in the United States and around the world, invoking his Jewish heritage.

The support in a Facebook post Wednesday comes in the wake of anti-Muslim statements by GOP presidential contender Donald Trump, who called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Zuckerberg does not specifically mention Trump.

“After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities. Even if an attack isn’t against you today, in time attacks on freedom for anyone will hurt everyone,” he added.

Zuckerberg also said in his post that Muslims are always welcome on Facebook, and that “we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you.”

The post received nearly 1.2 million likes in its first 17 hours online.

Zuckerberg commits 99 percent of shares to new ‘equality’ initiative


Mark Zuckerberg will put 99 percent of his Facebook Inc shares, currently worth about $45 billion, into a new philanthropy project focusing on human potential and equality, he and his wife said in a letter addressed to their newborn daughter.

The plan, which was posted on the Facebook founder and Chief Executive's page, and has attracted more than 360,000 'likes', follows other high-profile billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, who have pledged and set up foundations to dedicate their massive fortunes to philanthropic endeavors.

Thirty-one year old Zuckerberg, who will control the new initiative and remain in charge of the world's largest online social network, said he would sell or give up to $1 billion in shares in each of the next three years. 

He will keep a controlling stake in Facebook, valued at $303 billion as of Tuesday's close, for what the company called the “foreseeable future.” Zuckerberg said he plans to remain CEO of Facebook for “many, many years to come.”

The move is not Zuckerberg's first in the world of philanthropy. When he was 26, he signed the Giving Pledge, which invites the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes over their lifetime or in their will. 

“Mark and Priscilla are breaking the mold with this breathtaking commitment,” billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on Facebook. “A combination of brains, passion and resources on this scale will change the lives of millions. On behalf of future generations, I thank them.” 

Buffett himself pledged Berkshire Hathaway Inc stock worth $31 billion at the time to Gates' foundation in 2006, which was the largest single gift at the time.

Zuckerberg is relatively young to commit so much of his wealth. Microsoft Corp co-founder Gates was 45 in 2000, the year he and his wife founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett was 76 in 2006, the year he committed to give away all of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to philanthropic organizations.

In welcoming the birth of his first child on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself, his wife, Priscilla Chan and their new daughter, Maxima, along with a post entitled 'A letter to our daughter.' 

In the 2,220-word letter, Zuckerberg and Chan touched on issues including health, education, Internet access and learning before announcing the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which aims to “advance human potential and promote equality.” 

They plan to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares over their lifetimes to advance the initiative, which was formed as a limited liability company controlled by the two. It will begin by focusing on curing disease, Internet connectivity, community building and personalized learning – or the idea that technology can help students learn at different paces.

Max Chan Zuckerberg was born early last week – though Facebook did not specify her birth date – and weighed 7 lbs 8 ounces at birth. Last month, Zuckerberg announced he would take two months of paternity leave after the birth. 

Chan and Zuckerberg have so far committed $1.6 billion to their philanthropy. They have given several donations this year, including to public schools, initiatives to bring better wireless Internet access and to San Francisco General Hospital, where Chan works as a pediatrician. 

Zuckerberg and Chan said they will share more details when they return from their maternity and paternity leaves.

Why no Facebook filter in solidarity with Israeli victims?


“Show your support for the people of Paris by temporarily updating your profile picture with this new template we created,” read the Facebook-sponsored text promoted not 24 hours after last week’s terror attacks in Paris. The social media giant invited users to overlay their profile picture with the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.

Within hours, my Facebook feed became awash in those colors, as well-meaning friends painted their virtual faces in solidarity with #TeamFrance. But what did that solidarity really prove, or mean?

Certainly it’s an uncomfortable truth of our virtual existence that the colors of our profile picture — whether they are all the shades of the rainbow in solidarity with the legalization of gay marriage or the French tricolor — matter very little to anyone, possibly even including ourselves.

As Lulu Nunn wrote in The Independent, “Paint-by-numbers solidarity when it’s foisted on you by one of the most powerful companies in the world is simply not the way to help a traumatised nation in shock after murder.”

But more than that, there is a certain question that rises with the Facebook flag filter: Why did Facebook present the flag filter as an option on behalf of the French, yet it does not do so on behalf of the citizens of other countries plagued by Islamic terror — including, not so hypothetically, Israel?

I’m an identifying Jew who counts among my friends Jewish clergy, members of the media, educators and writers. I have many people in my feed who convey their solidarity with the people of Israel on a near-daily basis. And yet it is incredibly rare that I see a non-Jewish person in my feed posting anything along the lines of “My God — that’s horrible” in the wake of the most recent stabbing, shooting or car-ramming terror attack in Israel, even when it’s particularly unconscionable. (See under: worshippers being hacked to death with axes in a Jerusalem synagogue, or Israelis being stabbed to death just today during a prayer service in Tel Aviv.)

Why is that? Is it because people fear that expressing the arguably uncontroversial viewpoint of “People shouldn’t be hacked to death with axes while they’re at prayer” is to take a highly partisan step into the incomprehensibly deep, thick swamp of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or is it because Jews are murdered so frequently in Israel that it just isn’t as shocking as Parisians being murdered in a music hall?

And yet, here was my feed over the weekend filtered through the French flag. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was a nice gesture, even if it was only a gesture; it was that I found myself discomfited by its implications.

It got me wondering why some acts of terror are deemed “worse” than others? Is it the body count? Is it the picturesque setting in which they are conducted? Whose blood, as the sages would ask, is redder? These comparisons, surely, are incredibly odious — and yet, with the institutionalized approval of the flag filter, it seemed that someone had deemed this attack sadder, or worse, than others, whether in Israel or Beirut or Nigeria. It is not.

“It’s a dismaying and damaging truth that Westerners care about and empathise with images of white-skinned women grieving in Topshop bobble hats far more than brown-skinned women grieving in niqabs and, when you lend your voice to Euro-centric campaigns such as Facebooks flag filter, you exacerbate this,” Nunn wrote in her piece.“When we buy into such easy corporate public mourning, we uphold white supremacy. We’re essentially saying that white, Western lives matter more than others.”

Regardless, painting our faces in whatever colors is never an acceptable stand-in for discourse and debate — though it seems to naturally follow for a generation that believes that an emoji is enough to convey an emotion. Reducing ideas and ideology to the lowest common denominator, history shows us, doesn’t end well. We have all the tools available to us to conduct a powerful, international conversation — it’s not enough just to use it to paint on walls.

Jordana Horn is a contributing editor to Kveller. She is a journalist, lawyer, mother of six and a former New York correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg will take two months of paternity leave


Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said he will take two months of paternity leave after his daughter's birth, though he did not say when she is due. 

Facebook allows its U.S. employees to take up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave, which they can use all at once or throughout the year.

20,000 Israelis sue Facebook for ignoring Palestinian incitement


A class-action lawsuit against Facebook is accusing the social media platform of ignoring widespread Palestinian posts calling for violence against Jews.

In the suit filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs claim the Facebook posts have inspired many recent terror attacks and that “Facebook’s algorithms and platform connects inciters to terrorists who are further encouraged to perpetrate stabbings and other violence attacks against Israelis.”

According to a news release issued by the plaintiffs, many recent assailants “were motivated to commit their heinous crimes by incitement to murder they read on Facebook — demagogues and leaders exhorting their followers to ‘slaughter the Jews,’ and offering instruction as to the best manner to do so, including even anatomical charts showing the best places to stab a human being.”

The suit alleges that Facebook has a “legal and moral obligation” to block much of this content but that it chooses not to.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against Facebook requiring the social network to “immediately remove all pages, groups and posts containing incitement to murder Jews; to actively monitor its website for such incitement that all incitement is immediately removed prior to being disseminated to masses of terrorists and would-be terrorists; and to cease serving as matchmaker between terrorists, terrorist organizations, and those who incite others to commit terrorism.”

The complaint does not seek monetary damages against Facebook.

The lead plaintiff, Richard Lankin, 76, is in critical condition after having been shot and stabbed by Palestinian terrorists while riding on a crowded Jerusalem bus on Oct. 13. Two Israelis were killed and more than 20 were wounded in the attack.

Three attorneys — Robert Tolchin of New York; Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, and Asher Perlin of Fort Lauderdale, Florida — filed the suit.

In a news release issued by her organization, Darshan-Leitner said, “Facebook wields tremendous power and this publicly traded company needs to utilize it in a way that ensures that Palestinian extremists who are calling to stab Israelis and glorifying the terrorist that do, are not permitted to do it on its platform.”

An article published Saturday by The Associated Press said that social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, is the “number one source of news among young Palestinians.” Some 3.7 million Palestinians follow the Quds News Network, believed to be affiliated with Islamic Jihad, on the social media platform and 4.2 million follow the Shehab News Network, which is believed to be affiliated with Hamas, AP reported.

The audiences of Palestinian Facebook groups “dwarf those of more traditional news sources,” according to the AP.

The ‘Tweetifada’ hits Facebook with graphic videos of violence


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Facebook feeds of Israelis and Palestinians are being swamped with videos claiming to offer the “truth” of the series of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis that have left seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians dead this month.

On social media some are calling it a “tweetifada.” This is a play on the Palestinian term for uprising, Intifada, and a nod to the videos and images that are being posted on social media on an hourly basis. During the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, the internet was just emerging as a medium and a smartphone was unheard of. But today everything is recorded and uploaded quickly to the internet.

“There are videos circulating in two different networks…both sides in the conflict and their supporters… are distributing videos that they think make their case stronger,” Nicholas John, from the department of Communications at Hebrew University, told The Media Line. This is not a new field in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what is different is the instantaneous speed with which images can spread.

The second change is the unfiltered images swamping social media.

“(This) completely bypasses any kind of censorship… we are exposed now to far more gruesome images than we would have seen on the news,” John suggested. This reduces the distance people feel from the violence, making it seem more real and intimidating, he said. Such was the case with the video below.

13th October Vehicle Attack in Jerusalem

The feelings of young Palestinians viewing images and videos online, “range from pride to fear to excitement to a feeling of abandonment,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and columnist for Al-Monitor, told The Media Line. Three quarters of Palestinians are under the age of 29, and many are active on Facebook.

Videos being shared among Palestinian social media users tend to fall into three areas, Kuttab suggested. Those showing clashes between protestors and Israeli security forces; those showing alleged brutality by the Israeli military; and those demonstrating what Palestinians see as peaceful resistance by an underdog towards heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Of the most popular recent videos, Kuttab said, shows an elderly Palestinian man in a red headscarf scolding soldiers in Hebron for firing their weapons at Palestinian children. These videos show a “young person or a woman ignoring the fact that these men are very well armed and shouting at them – it gives people a sense of pride,” the journalist explained.

Inevitably, interpretations over what a video is showing and the context of the incident come down to the eye of the beholder. “We have this idea that a photograph (or video) should somehow tell us the truth of what actually happened but we know it hasn’t always,” John explained.

Shooting of Fadi Alon

The above video shows an incident where a 19 year-old Palestinian from Isawiya, Fadi Alon, was shot and killed by Israeli police on October 4. Two conflicting accounts of what happened immediately prior to the incident have immerged.

In the Israeli version, Alon stabbed and injured an Israeli and was neutralized by police in their efforts to end an ongoing terrorist attack.

In the Palestinian explanation, Alon scuffled with right-wing Jewish activists he encountered while they were marching in the street, shouting racist slogans. As the fight escalated police arrived and, urged on by the Jewish youths, shot the teenager while he posed no immediate threat to those around him.

Such differences of interpretations, and the narratives used to push them, make up a large part of the information being exchanged on networks like Facebook. People frequently view information that reinforces their existing political views.

Videos which clearly show Palestinians attacking Israeli civilians are shared less frequently on Palestinian social media networks, Kuttab suggested. When they are, an explanation is given for the action. “(The) narrative is described as attacks against settlers and soldiers, not against innocent civilians – “settler” is code word for justifiable resistance,” the journalist explained.

Israel conquered east Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately annexed it. Israelis see it as part of their capital; Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most of the 300,000 Palestinians who live in the city do not have citizenship, but their Jerusalem residency entitles them to Israeli health insurance and social security. Young Palestinians from east Jerusalem have been overwhelmingly responsible for the current wave of stabbings and shootings of Israeli Jews.

Some Palestinians view the stabbings as an understandable response to the ongoing violence of the Israeli “occupation”, Kuttab argued, asking, “Do people think these guys are heroes? Yes, they are heroes. We are an underdog population using low technology against an occupying power.”

Increasingly not just the opinions of the street but government narrative is also being pushed through videos and social media. The Israeli Government Press Office responded to allegations by Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that Israel had “executed” a 13 year old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis. Israel released a video showing a nurse feeding the youth jello in an Israeli hospital.

There are also the funny videos – often using black humor. Following a video showing an Israeli policewoman pointing her weapon at a Palestinian attacker in northern Israel while continuing to hold her ice cream in one hand, social media responded with the final video.

Ice Cream Satire

Dutch cafe owner: Time to ‘smite down’ Israeli tourists


A Dutch restaurant owner called for violence against Israeli tourists.

Dutch Jewry’s watchdog on anti-Semitism filed a complaint with police for incitement to violence on Thursday against Youness Ouaali, 30, pertaining to text he posted on Facebook two days earlier about a picture of a blood-covered boy titled “Palestinian child shot by Israel’s illegal occupation clutching on to his last breath.”

Ouaali, who owns the Bon Appetit cafe in the city of Bussum near Amsterdam, wrote: “Maybe it’s a good idea, starting today, to totally smite down Israeli tourists (not children)?”

He added: “Those who won’t listen need to feel. Enough is enough!!! Time to give a clear signal, I think. 14 years old and cold-bloodily shot down and sworn at till his last breath!!! May Allah reward him with djenna,” Arabic for heaven.

Ouaali appears to be referring to a 13-year-old Palestinian boy whom Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week said was executed, but is alive and hospitalized in a Jerusalem hospital. The boy is recovering from wounds he sustained when he was hit by a car after stabbing an Israeli of the same age riding a bicycle.

“The violence must not spill over to the Netherlands,” the watchdog group, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, said in a statement. “It is of importance that Ouaali be located and urgently be brought before a judge.”

The text he wrote about Israelis should be removed, the center said.

Israel says Facebook, YouTube videos encouraging Palestinian attacks


Israel said on Thursday it had asked Facebook and YouTube to remove videos it says have been encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis in the past week.

Four Israelis have been killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the past week, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services. Three suspected Palestinian assailants have been killed by police.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, providing an excerpt from a letter sent to Google Israel, whose parent company owns YouTube, said contact had also been made with Facebook.

“The videos depict recent terror attacks, praise the assailants and present Jews and Israelis in a hateful and racist manner, and since their publishing, three more attacks have taken place so far,” the letter said.

Spokespeople for Facebook and Google Inc said they could not comment on specific videos or contacts with governments.

“YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users,” said Google spokesman Paul Solomon.

The letter to Google included two YouTube video links, one of which has already been removed.

In one clip, archived on an Israeli news site, a song in Arabic-accented Hebrew calls for the killing of “Zionists” while another is an animation of the drive-by shooting of an Israeli couple killed in the West Bank a week ago.

Asked about the Israeli appeal, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook.”

The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Facebook had received complaints about anti-Arab postings.

But she said Facebook, as a rule, urged people “to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.”

Social media sites often flare-up when Israeli-Palestinian violence rises, such as the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, with fiery debates between users and sometimes even officials or fighters on either side, spreading across digital platforms.

A comment posted this week on the Facebook page of a prominent far-right Israeli settler activist called for people to use clubs to beat Arabs in Jerusalem's Old City, where two Israelis were stabbed to death.

Facebook to launch Israeli-made satellite to bring Internet access to Africa


Facebook will launch an Israeli-made satellite to bring Internet access to sub-Saharan Africa.

The AMOS-6 satellite is being built by Israel Aerospace Industries and will be operated by the Israeli company Spacecom, in partnership with Eutelsat Communications of France.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the partnership with Eutelsat to launch the satellite on his Facebook page on Oct. 5.

The satellite, which is expected to operate for 16 years, is set to launch in 2016, Zuckerman said.

The satellite costs about $300 million and Spacecom is expected to earn about $100 million from the deal, according to Reuters.