Yerushalayim Computer Geeks Gather to Fight Online Incitement (Photos)

Yerushalayim (Ilana Messika/TPS) – Sixty Israelis of all ages gathered Thursday for a 24-hour collaborative computer programming competition aimed at finding digital solutions to the problem of anti-Semitic incitement on social networks.

The hackathon, held at the MassChallenge Business Center in Yerushalayim, was initiated by the IsraeliHub Association which has been working to promote “public and algorithmic diplomacy,” i.e. the use of technology by private individuals rather than by government officials, for the purpose of promoting diplomacy.

“Hackathon participants are challenged to find solutions to fight against anti-Semitic or anti-Israel incitement on social networks. This technological ‘action plan’ can take the form of something like a smartphone application, computer program, or simple research software,” Erez Binyamin, IsraeliHub director and Hackathon coordinator, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

“Our axiom is that we will always be undermanned when facing the dissemination of messages containing incitement and the speed at which they are spread. But considering our shortage in manpower, we have enough bright people and creative brainpower in Israel along with the necessary technological tools,”  Binyamin explained.

Governments around the world have been increasing efforts to combat social media threats in recent years, and anti-Semitism remains an essential part of the general fight against hate speech incitement and extremism.

A 2016 Online Hate Prevention Institute report, compiled by the Australian Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, sampled more than 2000 anti-Semitic items from social networks and analyzed the networks’ responses. The report showed that traditional forms of anti-Semitism (conspiracy theories, tropes, and racist slurs) are the most common, at 49% of all anti-Semitic items. The category of new anti-Semitism (demonization of the State of Israel) ranked second at 34%, Holocaust denial came in third at 12%, and Promoting Violence Against Jews fourth at 5%.

Their analysis concludes that the likelihood of anti-Semitic content being removed from platforms changed drastically depending on both the platform’s identity and the category of anti-Semitism identified.

“I believe that technology is crucial to responding to the challenge due to the pivotal role of the digital scene,” Erez Binyamin said. “Today’s youth perceive the world through social networks and smartphones, and if we do not adapt to the new rules of the game, we will be facing an environment entirely hostile to Jews and Israel in the next generation.”

Several technology and incitement experts attended the hackathon as mentors to help programmers hone in on relevant content. Another issue for participants to solve is finding a solution that can be used legally, within the boundaries of freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and privacy infringement laws.

“This is the first time that Israel, as a state, has participated in this type of hackathon in order to find solutions to such a complicated issue. We, Israel, have the responsibility to intervene,” said Noam Katz, minister of public diplomacy at the embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., at the launch of the event.

Competitors were divided into a dozen teams for a three-hour brainstorming session and will present their projects to the six-judge panel on Friday morning, including Foreign Ministry Director of R&D Elad Ratson as well as Foreign Ministry consultant and former CEO of Channel Ten Danny Reicher.

Winning entries will walk away with NIS 10,000, NIS 3,000, and NIS 2,000, prizes.

“A country like Israel that can manage to build self-driving cars must be able to find solutions to anti-Semitism and incitement to violence on social networks,” Erez Binyamin concluded.

Photos courtesy of  Aharon Krohn/TPS

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