We, the undersigned, are greatly concerned about recent communication from Labour’s General Secretary Jennie Formby aimed at Facebook groups which have ‘Labour Party’ or ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ in their title (the full letter is below).
We are particularly outraged by the following passage which states “posts and conversations with antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory content” should be emailed to “email@example.com with screenshots and links […] if you believe the individual who has posted them may be a Labour member so that this can be investigated by the Party.”
As Facebook users, we reject any attempt to make us informers to Labour’s dysfunctional disciplinary processes. Social media and Facebook are effective because they allow the exchange of ideas, even if at times clumsily expressed. Most Facebook groups police themselves adequately, without the assistance of a compliance unit, whose targets to date have almost exclusively been
- on the left of the Party
- supporters of Palestinian rights
- critics of Israel and Zionism
- and disproportionately black and Jewish
Given the Labour Party’s recent adoption of the ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which in the words of the Jewish former Court of Appeal judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, is “calculatedly misleading” and the IHRA’s purposeful conflation of criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Semitism, we have no confidence that free speech to criticise Israel will be guaranteed, if this approach is accepted across social media.
What constitutes anti-Semitism remains disputed. The traditional definition, as per the Oxford English Dictionary is, “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”. The IHRA definition on the other hand takes up over 500 words, many of which refer to Israel.
For example, John McDonnell stated in a recent interview with Jewish News: “What we’re saying is it’s anti-Semitic to oppose a Jewish state”. We disagree. Opposing a state that systematically, and constitutionally, marginalises and demonises Palestinians while subjecting them to discrimination is by definition a form of apartheid. It is not ant-Semitism to state this fact.
Your letter, as an attempt to make Facebook users responsible for the conduct of other group members, displays the same method used by the media to smear Jeremy Corbyn when he did not speak up against (the very few) people posting nonsense in a group he happened to be a member of.
We believe the ongoing witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is bringing the party into disrepute. Your email will yet again fan the flames of this toxic climate, leading to ever more malicious and vexatious allegations and complaints.
We believe that open and democratic debate, without fear of being reported, is the best way to educate people and fight prejudice and racism. This new intrusion on free speech can only undermine the extraordinary effectiveness of social media as a tool to support the leader and the left in the party.
We will oppose any attempt to outsource education on anti-Semitism to the Jewish Labour Movement, which is the British wing of the Israeli Labour Party and covertly filmed and leaked a video of Jackie Walker at a closed training event in order to damage the party.
- We remain determined to eradicate all forms of discrimination from our Party.
- When we see prejudice or hate, we always speak up.
- When we see discrimination, we always oppose it.
- When we are asked to behave unjustly, we always refuse.
Full communication from Jennie Formby:
I’m writing to you as I understand that you are an admin or moderator of a Facebook group which refers to the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn in its title.
The use of the Party’s name or Jeremy Corbyn’s name can give the false impression that the Party is responsible for these groups and that they have some kind of official status. We are therefore writing to request that – if your group has not already done so – you:
Make clear, in the “about” section or title of the group, that the group is unofficial and not affiliated with the Labour Party and/or Jeremy Corbyn.
Take active measures against antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory content, which can make Jewish people and others feel unwelcome in these spaces
Antisemitism is an evil that permeates our society, and our Party is not immune from that. We have seen members make disgusting antisemitic comments and promote antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories in relation to left wing discourses, particularly around Israel and Palestine, and capitalism and globalisation. They may be a small proportion of our membership, but one is too many.
Recently Labour staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.
Some comments and images propagating such antisemitic tropes have been posted in a number of Facebook groups. The majority of posts in Facebook groups that have been reported to us are made by people who are not Labour members. However, where the Party is notified of such posts made by Party members, we investigate and take action as appropriate.
As Jeremy has said, we all have a responsibility to help drive this evil out of our movement. And, of course, the vast majority of members want to use Facebook groups and other forums to share ideas and experiences about campaigning, debate Party policies and discuss current affairs.
Effective moderation is essential to providing welcoming and respectful environments in which such discussions can take place. We understand that you are engaging in these online communities voluntarily, and the sheer number of posts and comments may be hard to moderate. However, we would like to emphasise the utmost importance of ensuring that fellow party members and supporters feel welcome and respected, and of rooting out any antisemitism or otherwise discriminatory comments and behaviour.
Here are suggestions about ways you can effectively moderate your groups to ensure that these online spaces do not tolerate or enable the promotion of antisemitic or otherwise hateful or discriminatory views.
- Add more administrators/moderators so that there is greater capacity to monitor posts and comments. Try to check posts and comments in the group every day, or more as required.
- Use Facebook’s group moderation options to create up to ten rules for your group. These should clearly set out that antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory content will not be tolerated and those making such comments will be removed from the group and reported to the Labour Party. Set the tone of the debate you’d like people to engage in: friendly, open-minded, fair and respectful.
- Take seriously all reports and complaints about comments which are seen as misogynist, racist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, discriminatory towards people with disabilities, or otherwise prejudicial.
- Be proactive: screenshot then remove posts and conversations with antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory content, and block individuals from the group who post such content.
- Encourage group members to use the “Report to admin” feature, and take these reports seriously. Frequently review the reported content using Facebook’s moderation sidebar. Screenshot then delete posts with antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory content, and block the user responsible.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org with screenshots and links to antisemitic or prejudicial comments or posts if you believe the individual who has posted them may be a Labour member so that this can be investigated by the Party.
- Change settings if necessary to allow administrators to approve or deny requests to join the group, so that you have greater control over who is in the group.
- Comment or post in the group regularly reminding people that posts or comments which include antisemitic or otherwise hateful or prejudicial content will be removed and the users will be blocked, and encourage members to report any posts they see which are offensive or inappropriate.
- Maintain a pinned post in the group explaining the above policies and emphasising the importance of maintaining a welcoming and respectful environment.
To reiterate, please email email@example.com with screenshots and links to antisemitic or prejudicial comments or posts if you believe the individual who has posted them may be a Labour member. This will then be investigated by the Party.
The Party will soon be launching a political education programme to foster deeper understanding and awareness of antisemitism within our movement. This will include videos and other online resources. We would greatly appreciate if you could share such content, once published, in Facebook groups and other forums, to help us raise greater awareness about this important issue.
Please reply confirming receipt of this letter and confirming that the requests the Party has made will be adhered to. If they will not be adhered to, I request that you remove any reference to the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn from the title of your Facebook group.
Please get in touch if you have any questions.
The Labour Party