December 10, 2018

App for Fighting Anti-Semitism Gets Foundation Grant

Act.il, a smartphone app that urges its users to take action against online anti-Semitic content, has received a $190,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.

Act.il will receive the money “over three years to mobilize, train, empower and engage hundreds of teens and young adults in the L.A. Jewish community to effectively advocate for Israel across social media platforms,” the Foundation said in a press release. 

Act.il CEO Yarden Ben Yosef told the Journal in a phone interview that the grant money would be used to open two media rooms in L.A. — one in the Israeli American Council’s Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills and the other at a location yet to be decided.

“We’re trying to be a platform for different organizations and different people who choose to be part of this powerful community, and basically to be the answer for the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel initiatives in the L.A. area,” Ben Yosef said.

He added that UCLA’s recent decision to allow Students for Justice in Palestine to hold its national conference on the university’s campus in November shows the necessity “to bring the Act.il knowhow and method to the L.A. community.”

Act.il, a joint project of the Israeli American Council (IAC), the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) and the Maccabee Task Force, is a social media app that notifies users of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content online, provides them opportunities to fight back, and awards them points for completing “missions.”

Ben Yosef claims Act.il has a 95 percent success rate at forcing the removal of anti-Semitic content online, saying it has played a role in getting “dozens” of posts taken down on a weekly basis from platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. He said a video posted on Instagram titled “How to Kill an Israeli” was taken down after nearly 300 Act.il users urged Instagram to remove it.

“This is why a lot of people from the community chose to send us content,” Ben Yosef said. “They know that we are their tool to remove this content from online.”

Earlier this year, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan praised Act.il when he announced he was launching “an international effort to unite Israel’s supporters around the globe and provide them with a platform that strengthens their activities, with tools that will help all of us fight hatred together, and with resources to spread the truth.”

“Ben Yosef claims Act.il has a 95 percent success rate at forcing the removal of anti-Semitic content online, saying it has played a role in getting “dozens” of posts taken down on a weekly basis.

“Along with civil society initiatives such as the Act.il application developed by the Israeli-American Council and IDC students, we believe that this will be a game-changer in defending Israel online and around the world,” Erdan said in February.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement also has taken note of the app’s success, and anti-Israel websites such as Electronic Intifada have attempted to discredit it.

“They say that we’re not a real grass-roots movement, it’s [an Israeli] government initiative or whatever,” Ben Yosef said. “The truth is we’re not getting any support from the government. It’s only a people initiative — grass-roots.”

Ben Yosef added, “When you see the founders, IAC and the IDC, both are nongovernment organizations, and you realize how ridiculous it is to think that Act.il is a government organization.”

Act.il’s various media rooms — some of which are located in Boston and New Jersey — are in partnerships with and received funding from local organizations. The media rooms are staffed by volunteers and are given leeway to determine the specific online content to go after.

The app has a 4.5-out-of-5-star rating in Apple’s App Store.

“This is the story of Act.il,” Ben Yosef said, “to do a ripple effect of different communities and, in the end, to create a huge crowdsourcing of online activism for the Jewish people and Israel.”