ADL evaluated the nine social media platforms across eight categories that fell within the larger areas of policy, enforcement, product, and data accessibility.
ADL investigators evaluated the publicly stated hate policies of nine social media platforms and their enforcement responses. In grading, ADL weighted enforcement of hate policies more heavily than existence of policies because even well-crafted policies are ineffective without meaningful and consistent enforcement at scale.
Hate Policies and Community Guidelines
Online platforms must have comprehensive hate policies to let users know what is or is not acceptable, and guide their own content moderation efforts. These hate policies should prohibit content or behavior targeting marginalized individuals or groups. ADL thus looked at whether technology companies had a broad policy or a set of community guidelines around hateful content on their platforms. Tech companies earned a score for the following:
- Metric #1: Does the policy explicitly mention religion, race, or ethnicity?
All nine of the platforms ADL analyzed have general hate policies that explicitly mention protected groups and cover religion, race, or ethnicity.
Broad hate policies are also important because antisemitism online can take many forms. Perpetrators target Jewish people online based on a variety of actual or perceived characteristics that play to racial, ethnic, or religious bias.
For example, one post, which ADL reported to Twitter, advances a racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory about “Jews” wanting to dominate “the Blacks,” using the common antisemitic trope of a thirst for power. ADL reported this as violative of Twitter’s rules regarding hate speech. While Twitter’s hate speech policy does explicitly mention multiple protected groups, its reporting interface does not allow a user to specify the protected group being targeted.
In that post (above), ADL felt that the antisemitism on display did not necessarily target Jews based on their faith, but instead posited Jewishness as a racial or ethnic identity that exists to manipulate and dominate Black Americans for the “benefit of the Soviet Union.”
In another example, the above post — also reported to Instagram as part of this investigation — explicitly targeted Jews and Judaism in a religion-based attack, calling the practice of Judaism the “synagogue of Satan.”
These two examples illustrate some of the multi-dimensional ways that antisemitism manifests on social media. Given this complex context, platforms need policies against hate that explicitly mention religion, race and ethnicity (among other protected groups) to effectively address online antisemitism because focusing solely on the targeting of Jews based on religion might not give content moderators at platforms the flexibility, understanding and tools they need to effectively address the ways in which content expresses hatred of Jews.
Reporting Effectiveness and Transparency
Beyond having clear and comprehensive policies, platforms must also communicate with their users about content management decisions. Users deserve to know that platforms will thoughtfully review their reports of hateful content. ADL established six categories in the report card to evaluate how well platforms responded to users’ reports. Platforms earned scores for the following:
Four of these six categories focused on platforms’ responses to reports from an ordinary user:
- Metric #2: Did the platform respond within 24 to 72 hours?
- Metric #3: Was the user notified whether the content they reported violated a specific platform policy (or was not violative)?
- Metric #4: Was the content removed or otherwise actioned as a result of the report?
Two categories focused on platforms’ responses to reports from trusted flaggers:
- Metric #5: Does the platform have a trusted flagger program?
- Metric #6: Did the platform take action on content reported through its trusted flagger program?
ADL gave the highest scores to platforms that responded within 24 hours to user reports with the results of their investigations and enforcement decisions and lower scores if they replied within 72 hours. ADL gave a score of zero if the response was received after 72 hours.
Notably, none of the “ordinary user” reports received a response that provided a specific reason as to why the platform did or did not take action. This lack of transparency on the rationale for the decisions behind content moderation is troubling. Users have reported to ADL their frustration when they are not told why a piece of content was or was not removed; they have no way of knowing whether platforms carefully reviewed their reports or how those platforms do or do not apply their policies.
In the above post — reported to Facebook — ADL noted that the Jewish Star of David is called a 6-sided polygon, which supposedly contains hidden symbolism alluding to 666 (the number of the beast in the New Testament Book of Revelation), and Judaism is called “The Synagogue of Satan.” We believed that the post clearly ran afoul of Facebook’s “harmful stereotypes” policy, which the platform defines as “dehumanizing comparisons that have historically been used to attack, intimidate, or exclude specific groups, and that are often linked with offline violence.” However, Facebook declined to remove it. Furthermore, the platform failed to specify how it arrived at this decision when content was flagged by an ordinary user, which reinforces the current lack of clarity regarding what constitutes violative antisemitic content on Facebook.
Trusted Flagger Channels
As part of this investigation, ADL also used trusted flagger channels, if provided by a platform, to report content when companies did not take action on content reported through ordinary user channels. ADL is a member of several tech companies’ formal trusted flagger programs, which provide faster escalation paths for reports of violative content. ADL evaluated platform responses to trusted flaggers in the same way it assessed responses to ordinary users — both in terms of the speed of its response and if action was taken as a result of the report.
Each platform that includes ADL in its trusted flagger program responded differently when ADL reported content through those channels. While TikTok did not take down any of the content ADL flagged as an ordinary user, the platform removed all of the content we reported as a partner organization through its trusted flagger program. Twitter and Facebook/Instagram removed none of the content reported by ordinary users, but then removed 20 percent of the content (1 out of 5 and 2 out of 10 reports, respectively) reported by us through their trusted flagger programs. Of note, YouTube removed 60 percent of the content (3 out of 5 reports) flagged by ordinary users; it removed neither of the remaining two pieces of content that we subsequently reported through the trusted flagger account.
Product-Level Efforts Against Antisemitism
Policy enactment and enforcement are both critical to evaluating how tech companies address antisemitism and other forms of bigotry on their platforms. But the design of the platforms is also essential to combating online hate, including antisemitism. For example, the ease by which a user can post an abusive comment directly affects both the prevalence and the impact of hateful content. For that reason, ADL has urged platforms to incorporate “friction” into their design to make users stop for a moment, hopefully encouraging reflection before posting certain types of harmful content. And, on the recipient side, the ability to effectively address online hate is based in part on how the reporting systems are designed and built. In this case, as opposed to when dealing with the poster of hateful content, it’s important to remove friction. A user should be able to report multiple instances of antisemitism to the platform with ease, instead of being required to report each piece of antisemitic content separately. The latter requires far more time and effort, decreasing the likelihood that all items will be reported for action and re-exposing targets to the harmful content.
ADL reviewed product-level changes and assessed platforms on the following:
- Metric #7: Does the platform have effective product-level steps to address antisemitism?
In this category, ADL gave high scores to Reddit, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube for the following product changes:
- Both Twitter and YouTube implemented prompts that pop up whenever a user attempts to post potentially violative content. These prompts ask users to check themselves and confirm that they wish to continue.
- In July 2020, Twitter updated its policies to remove links to off-platform content that violated its hate policies. This has also resulted in a product change involving an “interstitial” when clicking on certain links on the platform, such as the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer in the example above. In addition to warning about spam and spyware, the interstitial now includes language about content that is violent or misleading, and might lead to “real-world harm.”
- ADL has long recommended that platforms explore ways to understand the experience of users from marginalized groups and how they are impacted by hate. Among other things, this provides valuable insights to web designers and engineers, as well as policy architects, to better understand (and measure) the harms they are seeking to mitigate. In a December 2020 update, YouTube stated that it would allow active content creators from marginalized communities to voluntarily report their identities to the platform. This would allow the platform to look more closely at how creators from specific communities are targeted by hate and better track and address hate against specific identity groups on the platform. ADL commends YouTube's measure as a step in the right direction that we also hope will influence other platforms to implement similar product changes.
- Equipping users targeted by antisemitism, hate, and other forms of online abuse with the ability to report comments in batches is another important feature that provides far more agency against trolls and hate and harassment. ADL and other organizations have long recommended that platforms provide such features to users. TikTok announced new features in May 2021 that enable users to report up to 100 comments at once and also block accounts in bulk.
Looking at how tech companies approach policy, respond to reports of antisemitism, and design their products to mitigate antisemitism is important, but even these three areas omit a key metric in evaluating a platform’s performance addressing the issue: prevalence. How much antisemitism is there on any given platform? At present, no tech company provides any data on the scope of any specific form of hate on its platform. For a third party such as ADL to understand the full scope of antisemitism and other forms of hate on a social platform, tech companies must make data available to third parties, whether independent researchers, civil society organizations, or academia broadly, all while respecting user privacy.
To assess how platforms are doing on data accessibility, ADL's Center for Technology and Society evaluated the following:
- Metric #8: To what degree do platforms make it easy for researchers and civil society organizations to acquire data that makes third-party measurement and auditing achievable?
Large-scale auditing of social media platforms requires robust Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), enabling companies to share their application data with other parties. ADL used eight criteria to grade platforms' data accessibility:
- Availability of public APIs that return public posts and enable third parties to retrieve data with minimal setup
- Availability of APIs that nonprofits and research organizations can use; trusted third parties can access more detailed data
- Availability of APIs that return information on user reporting and content moderation so third parties can understand platforms' actions
- Ability to search past data — allowing third parties to assess historical trends
- Ability to stream new data so third parties can monitor ongoing developments
- Ability to automatically discover new groups or topics
- Rate limiting for data collection, meaning the amount of content platforms allow third parties to pull in within a given timeframe, enabling third parties to collect data at scale
- Quality of documentation explaining API use; third parties can use the above features with relative ease
ADL recommends that every platform develop these features, but none of the nine we analyzed met all these criteria. Twitter and Reddit scored the highest because both offer strong search and streaming capabilities at high rate limits, allowing large quantities of data to be collected.
However, Twitter could improve its score with fewer publication restrictions, while still finding ways to respect user privacy. Twitter allows researchers to share the IDs of tweets they analyzed, but the platform does not permit them to release the full data (text, author, likes, retweets, bios, etc.). People who ignore this restriction risk having their API keys and developer access revoked.
Reddit could do better by adding keyword search, and by providing tools to discover new subreddits and posts. ADL recommends both Reddit and Twitter also create APIs for user reporting and content moderation information.
Discord, Twitch, and YouTube scored in the middle because they could not specify search criteria or had limited collection data volume, and had no automated discovery capabilities. TikTok lacks an API for collecting data on any type of public user post. Facebook enables data collection through the CrowdTangle API, but heavily regulates who has access to the tool. ADL has requested access to CrowdTangle, but has been denied for unspecified reasons. Roblox offers limited accessibility to researchers.