After declining to explain why it initially refused to remove an anti-Semitic post from the comments on an Alberta professor’s page, Facebook said it erred in allowing the screed to stay up and subsequently took it down.
On Aug. 26, B’nai Brith Canada was notified about a photograph and adjoining paragraph that a Facebook user named Glen Davidson had posted in the comments section of University of Lethbridge professor Anthony Hall’s profile.
The image – which Facebook first told B’nai Brith did not violate the company’s community standards but later removed without explanation – featured a man assaulting another man who appeared to be an Orthodox Jew.
Beside the photo was a rant containing anti-Semitic slurs, Holocaust denial and calls to kill “all Jews… Every last one.”
The paragraph, which is attributed to “Ben ‘Tel Aviv Terror’ Garrison,” begins: “There was never a ‘Holocaust’ but there should have been and, rest assured, there will be, as you serpentine kikes richly deserve one.”
It refers to Jews as “greedy, hook-nosed kikes” and likens the Jewish People to “vermin” and “cockroaches.”
Garrison told The CJN his name was falsely attributed to the post as part of a larger trolling campaign against him.
Representatives of the social media giant’s communications department told The CJN on Aug. 30 that it does not comment on specific decisions regarding its moderation of content.
After The CJN published the initial version of this story on Aug. 30, a Facebook spokesperson issued an official statement, saying the post in question “was reviewed in error and was taken down as soon as we were able to investigate. Our team processes millions of reports each week and we sometimes get things wrong. We’re very sorry about the mistake.”
A spokesperson for the Calgary police told The CJN that someone in Calgary filed a complaint about the Facebook post, but the file is being transferred to Lethbridge police for investigation.
B’nai Brith spokesperson Marty York said Amanda Hohmann, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, contacted Facebook after learning about the post.
Two hours later, Facebook sent what York described as “a standard e-mail” saying the graphic did not violate the company’s community standards, the set of policies Facebook uses to regulate what it refers to on its company website as the “type of sharing [that is] is allowed on Facebook, and [the] type of content [that] may be reported to us and removed.”
The same day, after receiving Facebook’s response, B’nai Brith filed a complaint with Lethbridge police about the anti-Semitic post. It also issued a news release detailing the content of the post and Facebook’s refusal to remove it, in addition to sending out an e-mail blast to some 30,000 B’nai Brith supporters and media outlets, and posting about the incident on its Facebook page.
York said it’s incomprehensible that Facebook didn’t immediately regard the anti-Semitic post as a violation of its policies.
“It doesn’t make sense to us whatsoever how it could not be perceived at the outset as pure hate speech. This is probably the clearest, most obvious kind of anti-Semitism that one could possibly create… And yet Facebook allowed it to [remain online] until massive protests happened,” he said.
Within hours of B’nai Brith’s campaign, Facebook deleted the inflammatory post from Hall’s page.
York said Facebook never explained the apparent reversal of its decision.
“Facebook has a reporting system that’s opaque and the mechanisms by which it operates are not clear to the public,” he said.
B’nai Brith stressed that Hall himself did not post the graphic on his own wall, but that Hall has been known to use his academic credentials to deny the Holocaust and promote 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Separately, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said it asked the University of Lethbridge to take disciplinary action against Hall, a tenured professor in the school’s liberal education program, in early August.
The request came after the Lethbridge Herald reported that the university was defending Hall’s right to promote conspiracy theories online, including the idea that Jewish Zionists are waging a war on Muslims through control of western media.
CIJA’s director of communications, Martin Sampson, said the group has kept tabs on Hall ever since he espoused “rabidly anti-Israel views and advanced a number of anti-Semitic tropes” at a Calgary interfaith dialogue event two years ago.
Sampson said the university hasn’t yet responded to CIJA’s request.