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Global task force urges countries to consider regulation to fight online antisemitism


OTTAWA — An international task force that includes three Canadian members of Parliament says social media sites must be held accountable for driving users to extremist content and legislators should consider regulations to combat the rise of antisemitism online.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, along with Conservative Marty Morantz and the NDP's Randall Garrison, are joined by politicians from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Israel.

The task force was formed last September because of what lawmakers report is a distributing rise in antisemitism, with most of what they see happening online and in social media posts, which transcend countries' borders.

During a late Wednesday press conference, members as an example pointed to its rise following the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol in Washington.

Another event several lawmakers said inflamed this type of discrimination was the recent fighting between Israel-Hamas.

"After the Gaza conflict, I have to say that I have never in my lifetime seen levels of antisemitism the way they have been in recent weeks," Housefather said, following the release of the task force's interim report.

"I've had families in my district come to me to tell me that they were afraid of having their kids play in parks wearing their kippas. I've had people tell me that they were worried about their mezuzahs being on their doors. We've had people driving through streets yelling hateful epithets at Jews.

"I've never seen that happen in this way in my country."

The report urged all levels of government and social media providers tofirst adopt a universal definition of antisemitism.

"The reality is that if we cannot clearly define a problem, we simply cannot effectively combat it," said Morantz.

It also recommended they should consider antisemitism in the context of online extremism. Housefather says antisemitism is not only a form of hate, but also disinformation, and pointed to how popular conspiracy theories, like QAnon, are connected to discriminatory beliefs about Jewish people.

The task force also called for countries to consider using independent oversight and regulation "where appropriate" to create safer spaces online.

"We applaud the advances that some platforms have made, but note that all still have significant work to do in order to address online antisemitic content," it reads.

Housefather illustrated the issue by saying people who are Holocaust deniers are not being driven to content that counters such falsehoods, but the algorithms used by social media giants are seeing them fed more of the same information.

He said companies need to held "accountable" for their algorithms and described how a regulator could ensure they follow their own policies when it comes removing hateful posts.

Last month, the Liberal government introduced a bill proposing to tackle online hate speech and propaganda on the eve of the House of Commons breaking for summer.

As the task force noted, the bill has yet to be debated by MPs. And what happens to that legislation could be determined by whether Canadians are sent to the polls before the House is set to reconvene in September.

Coming up with tougher measures to get websites to take down such content was something anti-hate and Jewish organizations told the task force it believed countries needed to do.

According to the report, the Australia-based Online Hate Prevention Institute recommended governments consider reforms that could allow them to levy sanctions against out-of-country companies that fail to remove "unlawful content inciting hatred or violent extremism" after enough time has passed.

The Canadian-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies also asked governments to develop clear rules for social media websites and search engines about preventing hate speech.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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