Meta updates moderation policy for word ‘Zionist’ used in hate speech targeting Jews, Israelis

Meta made its decision after consulting with 145 external experts including political scientists, historians, legal scholars, and civil rights groups.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on Tuesday an update to its moderation policy regarding posts that use the word “Zionists” as a proxy to target Jews or Israelis in hate speech.

Meta said it will now remove posts that use “Zionists” to refer to Jews and Israelis in harmful and derogatory ways.

“We recognize there is nothing approaching a global consensus on what people mean when they use the term ‘Zionist,’” Meta explained.

“However, based on our research, engagement, and on-platform investigation into its use as a proxy term for Jewish people and Israelis in relation to certain types of hateful attacks, we will now remove content that targets ‘Zionists’ with dehumanizing comparisons, calls for harm, or denials of existence on the basis that ‘Zionist’ in those instances often appears to be a proxy for Jewish or Israeli people.”

Meta said it made its decision after consulting with 145 external experts “representing civil society and academia across the Middle East and Africa, Israel, North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.”

They included political scientists, historians, legal scholars, digital and civil rights groups, freedom of expression advocates, and human rights experts.

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Meta’s longstanding policy has been to remove posts that attack people based on protected characteristics such as nationality, race, and religion.

Political affiliations and ideologies are not among those protected characteristics.

Meta also previously only considered the word “Zionist” as a proxy for Jewish or Israeli people in very specific cases, such as when Zionists are compared to rats, which is a common antisemitic trope.

“Going forward, we will remove content attacking ‘Zionists’ when it is not explicitly about the political movement, but instead uses antisemitic stereotypes, or threatens other types of harm through intimidation, or violence directed against Jews or Israelis under the guise of attacking Zionists,” Meta said.

The policy update will be implemented on Facebook and Instagram, and comes nine months after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, where 1,200 people were murdered and approximately 250 were taken as hostages.

Since the onslaught, antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed to record highs in several countries around the world, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

In many cases, anti-Israel activists have threatened “Zionists,” calling for their expulsion from the community and even for their death.

The Israeli tech nonprofit organization CyberWell, which uses artificial intelligence and open source intelligence tools to track antisemitism and Holocaust denial on social media platforms, submitted data-focused analysis to Meta regarding the use of “Zionist” as a replacement for “Jew” that helped Meta examine the issue before it announced its updated policy on Tuesday.

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The antisemitism watchdog group thanked Meta for its updated policy and for recognizing that attacking Zionists “is akin to attacking ‘Jews.’”

“The use of the term ‘Zionist; to spread antisemitic vitriol while avoiding detection has been used by radicals on the far left and extremists on the far right. Today, Meta has spoken through thoughtful action,” said CyberWell founder and executive director Tal-Or Cohen Montemayor.

“By acknowledging the phobic nature of when abuse of the term ‘Zionist’ is meant to spread bigotry and fear, they are actively protecting a targeted minority group of users on their platform that are currently experiencing the worst wave of targeted hate since the Holocaust.

We are thankful to our partners at Meta for taking this step, and we hope that other platforms follow suit. With clear policy, safer digital spaces for everyone are possible.”

Meta said it has examined issues surrounding the term “Zionists” for years, including recently in March at its policy forum, a meeting that takes place on a regular basis where Meta team members from various departments discuss potential changes to its community standards, community guidelines, and advertising standards.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) – which recently launched the Institute for Technology and Human Rights to address online antisemitism – applauded Meta’s decision, saying that after “years of advocacy by the WJC, its affiliated Jewish communities, and other organizations,” the move “marks a significant step in combating the veiled antisemitism that has proliferated under the guise of political discourse and has skyrocketed since Oct. 7.”

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Meta’s decision is a “much-needed advancement in our ongoing fight against online antisemitism and hatred,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement.

“By recognizing and addressing the misuse of the term ‘Zionist,’ Meta is taking a bold stand against those who seek to mask their hatred of Jews. We appreciate that Meta has truly listened to the voices of Jewish communities that we work with.

This policy change will help create a safer, more respectful online environment for everyone. I hope all other platforms will follow Meta’s leadership and take similar action.”

The updated policy was also praised by a number of other Jewish organizations, including StopAntisemitism, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee.

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs said, “As we’ve seen over the last nine months, hatred against Jews takes many forms, and this update in Meta’s Hate Speech policy shows what we’ve said all along: anti-Zionism IS antisemitism.”

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