Protesters: Facebook OK with anti-Semitic postings

A small group of activists accusing Facebook of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism online staged a protest outside the social media giant’s Menlo Park headquarters on Oct. 14.

The protest was organized by Michael Mendelson, a 45-year-old electronics salesman from Miami who has been working for two years to get Facebook to remove pages and groups he believes are anti-Semitic or hateful against Jews and Israel.

In an email, Mendelson said he received support from the Zionist Organization of America and Stand With Us, and that “over 400 attendees” had signed up online and would be at the protest. The actual number was about 15.

Israeli Phillip Pasmanick takes part in a protest at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on Oct. 14. photo/joyce goldschmid

Mendelson claims he collected 112,000 signatures on a petition he presented to Facebook, and his “Help Report Hate & Anti-Semitic Pages” Facebook page has been liked more than 12,000 times.

“It all started when I saw a Facebook page called “F-ck Israel,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been reporting hateful page after hateful page, but even if one gets taken down, it pops right back up in no time at all.”

The son of parents he termed Holocaust “refugees,” Mendelson accuses Facebook of practicing a double standard: carefully removing content that is hateful toward gays, blacks, and other ethnic and minority groups, but blatantly allowing material that is virulently anti-Jewish to stay visible in newsfeeds.

Those who showed up to the protest waved blue and white signs with messages such as “Facebook=Hatebook,” “Social Media Holocaust” and “Demand Facebook take anti-Semitism seriously.”

Phillip Pasmanick said he traveled from his home in northern Israel to support Mendelson’s efforts. Retired from the Israel Defense Forces after 30 years, he now runs an Israel advocacy website. “I, too, have worked for a long time to fight anti-Semitic pages and have alerted others about them so they can help me get the links taken down,” he said.

Pasmanick, who wore a large Israeli flag as a cape, blamed Facebook’s algorithms for allowing hateful material to stay online.

Matt Steinfeld, manager of policy communications for Facebook, refuted Pasmanick’s claim. “An individual reviews each reported page and measures it against the standards on Facebook’s community standards page,” he said. With 1.2 billion users and 3.5 billion posts per day, Facebook maintains that the only “scalable way” to handle complaints is through its online reporting protocols, and by engaging with community organizations to address various concerns.

One of those community organizations is the Anti-Defamation League, which said in an official statement that it is “routinely in contact with the leadership at Facebook to raise concern about anti-Semitic and other problematic content published to their pages.” 

Protesters visit Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. photo/joyce goldschmid

While the ADL does not always agree with Facebook on what constitutes inappropriate speech and thinks the company could do even better in making its site a hate-free zone, it said it has found Facebook to be a willing partner in responding to problematic material brought to its attention. 

“One good example involved a Facebook page created by a virulently anti-Semitic Hungarian group that was conveying direct threats and inciting violence against Jews,” said Todd Gutnick, ADL’s director of media relations and public information.  “While Facebook does not remove every page we have called to their attention, they often remove specific content on those pages that crosses the line.”

As for protests like the one at Facebook headquarters, Gutnick said, “We do not believe they are an effective tactic, and we do not support them.”

The individuals holding signs up outside Facebook headquarters disagreed. “It’s up to us to do something,” contended Jody Ferrill, who traveled to the protest from Sacramento.

Although he doesn’t discount the work of the ADL and other like organizations, Art Liberman of Palo Alto thinks the direct protest approach is needed, as well. “Only direct action brought the American public’s attention to the atrocities that were happening to Jews during the Holocaust. It’s history repeating itself,” he said as he tried to get Facebook employees to read his sign as they drove their cars into the company’s parking lot.

All the protesters said they had seen anti-Semitic content on Facebook and felt the time had come to do more than just report it online.

“I reported a comment, posted on a Jewish news page, wishing that Hitler would return,” protester Joanna Zimmerman of Sunnyvale said. “I was very disappointed when Facebook said it found nothing wrong with the comment.”

Masha Merkulova of Redwood City said she came to the protest on behalf of the members of Club Z, a Zionist program for high school students on the Peninsula she coordinates. “It’s the teens who brought these anti-Semitic and anti-Israel pages to my attention,” she said. “They asked me why Facebook wasn’t doing anything about it.”

She said couldn’t answer the teens’ question, but she did tell them that she was going to try to do something about the problem.

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.