Women are specifically targeted’ – Board hosts conference panel event on online hate

A frank conversation on the situation of online hate was hosted by the Board of Deputies in Westminster this week, during which four Jewish leaders discussed the trials and pitfalls when it comes to combating bigotry on social media.

Board President Marie van der Zyl, Dame Margaret Hodge MP, HOPE not hate deputy director Jemma Levene and Co-founder of the Nisa-Nashim interfaith group, Laura Marks OBE, talked about the challenges faced when trying to get social media companies to respond to hate on their platforms. The discussion took place at the Fringe of the International Ministerial Forum on Freedom of Religion and Belief, at the QE2 conference centre in Westminster.

Laura Marks spoke about how a climate of intimidation has prevented people – “particularly women” – from getting involved in the interfaith space – because of the online abuse.

“To deny that women are specifically and particularly targeted is ridiculous”, she said.

Dame Margaret, who is the co-chair of the APPG on British Jews, described having been the subject of 90,000 mentions online – most of them hostile and anonymous – within a two month period. She said with regards to social media companies that “interest in removing [hate] is limited.”  Jemma Levene stressed that “no platform is going to regulate themselves; they need to have something to lose.” She noted, however, that the Online Safety Bill currently has 52 pages of proposed amendments. She identified worries about “legal but harmful” language and “journalistic exception” – extremists masquerading as journalists to avoid consequences for their actions. Dame Margaret stressed that if Ofcom receives the sweeping regulatory powers which the Online Safety Bill is set to give them, the organisation will “need enough money and resources” in order to properly take control of their new areas of scope. Other issues mentioned which needed fixing included preventing those engaging in online hate from hiding behind anonymity, as well as instituting direct liability for key representatives of social media platforms, should those companies fail to comply with the new legislation.

Marie van der Zyl, who chaired the panel, thanked participants for their valuable contributions to the discussion.

In her own remarks, she told the audience that “one of the key missions of the Board of Deputies is to combat antisemitism in all of its forms. And over the last 15 years in particular, along with the rise of social media platforms, there has been a surge of anti-Jewish hatred in the online space… This is certainly not limited to anti-Jewish hate, though. The internet has brought many positives, but has also enabled an avalanche of bigotry targeted against all minorities; anti-Muslim hate, Anti-LGBT prejudice, anti-black racism, Misogyny – all have been allowed to proliferate, despite many fine words from Online Corporations about their user policies.

“A couple of years ago I wrote that ‘Online is the new frontline in the fight against antisemitism’. Sadly, little has changed since then.”

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