August 29, 2023

Joseph Brown responds to Jonathan A. Greenblatt

Jonathan Greenblatt’s plan outlined in “Complicit: Big Tech and Antisemitism” to rid social media websites of antisemitism seems unworkable at best and counterproductive at worst. The solution? More content moderation.

Greenblatt cites a few examples of Twitter’s abetment of antisemitism, among them the fact that the site has difficulty differentiating between the use of the triple parentheses bracketing of a word — a silly internet meme — to disparage Jews and its use by Jews to proudly identify themselves. (As a remedy, he recommends automated content-moderation systems that must be “updated constantly.”)

Another offense is that Twitter failed to take down criticism from a far-right activist of an unfortunately worded ADL tweet that seemed to conflate hating communism and hating Jews. That criticism, Greenblatt laments, goaded a fair number of antisemites to — as is their wont — post antisemitic comments. (He neglects to mention that a lot of people dunked on the ADL’s tweet, including David Harsanyi, a Jew.)

There is truth to Greenblatt’s claim that social media companies aren’t very effective at taking down antisemitic content, evidence for which he provides with a 2021 study that found the biggest sites failed to take down 84 percent of antisemitic posts. While that isn’t a pretty number, the fact remains that, by some estimates, users post 6,000 tweets every second of every day – or around 200 billion tweets per year.

Greenblatt attributes Twitter’s failures to a “lack [of] adequate incentives” to fix the issue, much in the way, one assumes, Sisyphus lacked the incentive to finish schlepping that boulder. We are never told how Twitter is supposed to navigate a veritable asteroid field of comments with endless nuance that even Greenblatt appears incapable of parsing.

Ultimately, Greenblatt recommends gutting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to hit tech companies with greater liability for what their users post. Such a policy would have the unfortunate effect of either a) encouraging social media companies to forgo content moderation altogether to avoid liability, or b) encouraging social media companies to moderate content unfairly, with particular deference to the loudest and most undiscerning voices.

Would either of these outcomes have the effect of reducing antisemitism? They seem more likely to contribute to it.

Joseph Brown