‘Dear Mr. Zuckerberg’

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Online petition Facebook co-founder to remove hateful anti-Semitic pages

In many ways, Facebook is a work of fiction- anyone can join the online, global social network, post anything (subject to the website’s rules) and pretend to be someone or something they’re not. Posts can include exaggerations, made-up stories and sometimes even outright lies.
Anna Berg (shown with Saskia Pantell) organized two pro-Israel rallies in Stockholm where she lives Anna Berg (shown with Saskia Pantell) organized two pro-Israel rallies in Stockholm where she lives

Among its 1.3 billion monthly active users, many of whom simply log on to share family photos, birthday greetings or news about daily life events, there are also countless Facebook members with pages that denounce Israel, spread hateful messages about Jews and deny the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League and a growing number of fed-up individuals are calling on the social network’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to remove anti-Semitic pages and change the website’s community standards.

The 30-year-old became a billionaire when he helped create Facebook in 2004. According to published reports, Zuckerberg was raised Jewish, but has since become an atheist.

“Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise in our society. Jews are attacked everywhere, and Facebook is no exception,” reads an online petition currently signed by more than 19,000 people.

“The number of anti-Semite [and anti-Zionist] pages are growing by the minute,” it continues. “Despite the option to report these pages, most reports are ignored. The pages and photos that are allowed are vile, horrific, hateful and filled with classic anti-Semitism and Jewish stereotypes. By allowing these pages, we believe that Facebook is actively supporting the spread of anti-Semitism, and we DEMAND that something is done about this. Change the Community Standards and stop the hate NOW!”

The petition and a page called “Dear Mr. Zuckerberg” were started in February by a Swedish art director named Anna Berg, who is Jewish. Via email, she told the Detroit Jewish News why she started this campaign.

“My idea to do this actually started about a year ago after reporting many anti-Semitic pages and photos on Facebook that weren’t removed despite their so-called ‘community standards,’ which do not allow hate speech,” she said. “When you start looking for these pages, it’s quite disgusting to see the hate and the vile content that is posted and allowed.”

Berg also has organized two pro-Israel rallies in Stockholm in recent years. She says she’s received threats and hate mail as a result of her efforts, but also a lot of heartfelt thank-yous from supporters.

SIGNING ON

Alison Schwartz, 49, of West Bloomfield is one of the local members of the Jewish community who signed the online petition. The public relations agency vice president is originally from London, England, but has lived in Metro Detroit for the last 15 years with her husband, Dave, and three sons, Michael, 19, William, 16, and Teddy, 10.

“My father was born in Austria, and as a young child fled with his family to Shanghai, China, the only country accepting Austrian Jews just before the war,” Schwartz explains. “Sadly, the vast majority of the family were not lucky enough to escape and died in concentration camps; my father’s family was decimated by anti-Semitism. I feel very strongly that I want to stand up and say, ‘No!’ to the hate.”

Because people posting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, Schwartz adds, they have the ability to write terrible things about others often without repercussions.

“I deeply admire Anna Berg,” she says. “I know this story is being covered by Jewish publications around the world. As more people know about it, the hope is that they will join Anna’s campaign and this strength in numbers will persuade Mr. Zuckerberg to remove these extremely dangerous sites.”

Audra Averbach of Commerce Township, a health and wellness coach and a mother of four, also signed the petition.

“Facebook is being used as a method of bullying,” she said.

“I think [the creators of the site] spend too much time worrying about how many friend requests we’re doing and not enough time worrying about people filling Facebook with nasty messages. I hate what religion has become because it causes so much hate, and I think Facebook perpetuates it.”

The ADL has joined the chorus of voices imploring Zuckerberg to take action. In February, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman issued a statement asking Facebook to remove one page in particular called “Jewish Ritual Murder,” which was posted in 2012.

A Facebook representative is quoted as saying, “Relying on objective standards is very important to us, and as such we cannot remove content on grounds of promoting false or offensive information alone.” At press time, no action had been taken (however a page called “A Farso do holocasto” was recently removed for containing hate speech or symbols).

“It is profoundly offensive, has no socially redeeming value and adds nothing to any legitimate marketplace of ideas,” Foxman said. “This page targets all Jews, and Facebook’s position that it technically does not violate its community standards because it does not target individuals is an unacceptable excuse.

“We do not believe Facebook intends to send a message that they are insensitive to the enormous harm the blood libel has caused throughout Jewish history, and the easiest way for them to make that clear would be to exercise the discretion they certainly have and remove the page.” ■

Robin Schwartz | Contributing Writer

To learn more about the online petition or to sign it, search for “Dear Mr. Zuckerberg” on Facebook.
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