Social media companies need to do more, she says
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The Texoma Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League mobilized quickly after a shooter from Allen, Texas, traveled 600 miles to El Paso and killed 22 people at a Walmart Saturday, Aug. 3, injuring dozens of others. About 13 hours after that shooting, a gunman opened fire in a downtown Dayton, Ohio, entertainment district, killing nine people.
In these situations, Cheryl Drazin, regional director of the ADL’s Texoma office, explained, “We immediately activate our network, outreach to law enforcement and our center on extremism starts to pull whatever information they can find on alleged suspects supporting intelligence work and community support work.”
Drazin pointed out that the two shootings have different etiologies, which influences how ADL responds.
“It’s a very different story for El Paso than in Dayton. El Paso has some very real connections to hate and extremism, and that’s our [ADL’s] area and so we’ve been intimately involved in both the intelligence work and community support work.”
Community support work involves deploying education resources, reaching out to Coalition partners in the Latino community and continuing to activate its advocacy network at the state and federal levels.
The El Paso shooting is the third-deadliest domestic terror attack in United States history following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando in 2016.
Drazin explained that ADL analysts continue to examine the El Paso shooter’s manifesto, which was posted to 8Chan shortly before he opened fire.
At this point, the shooter does not appear to be an active member of a specific white supremacy group, although the end of his manifesto closed with a familiar message.
“This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”
Drazin believes that it’s no accident that the shooter drove from his Allen home to El Paso, one of the most visible symbols for today’s immigration system.
“It’s a major border city; it has a tremendous immigrant population and a majority Hispanic population. The fact that he drove from Allen to El Paso was for an optic and you have to read something into that.”
Drazin said that the anti-immigrant climate of hate has influenced upticks in violent acts.
“No one person beside the shooter is responsible for a specific act of violence, but constant anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from any kind of leadership is dangerous. I can’t point my finger at any one person.”
While the administration seemed to say all the right things Monday, actions speak louder than words, Drazin suggested. She also said that it’s not just leaders in Washington or Austin that need to take a stand.
Drazin believes that the response to end these types of heinous and tragic crimes will need to take a multifaceted approach and one that has a distinct focus on domestic terrorism.
Governmental agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI
The White House and Congress working together
The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, and
The private sector
With regard to the private sector, Drazin is specifically referring to mainstream social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“We have to have a full-court press from Silicon Valley. Tech companies have a particular responsibility to take action. White supremacy is a global terror threat and it’s been spread and sustained by social media. Public platforms have got to enforce their rules and if they don’t have the right rules they have to create them.”
Drazin emphasized that because social media companies have terms of service for people to participate in them, they don’t have the same First Amendment issues as other outlets. In other words, they can remove people from their sites that do not conform to their rules.
“Tech companies have a responsibility to take action,” she said. “They are moving in the right direction but they need to move faster. They need to take responsibility to regulate themselves on things like this. They have this tool that goes past the First Amendment challenges because they have their own, called a terms of service agreement.
“It’s not a policy problem; it’s a product problem. They can remove people from their sites if they want to.”
In addition to creating algorithms for identifying hate-filled posts, Drazin suggests that the social media companies could subject themselves to independent, interdisciplinary external audits for hate.
“As an industry, they could make some bold moves that would make it clear that they don’t want their product being used this way.”
If they can’t figure out how to stop the proliferation of hate speech and harassment as a private industry, Drazin said that “Washington will have to step up and fill the gaps and strengthen the laws against perpetrators of online hate.”
Drazin explained that today’s laws were not crafted with modern technology in mind.
“Congress and state legislatures need to pass laws that hold perpetrators of severe online hate and harassment more accountable for their conduct,” she said.
It will take a united effort to end hate-inspired violence.
“Faith communities, educational institutions and all of us, need to step forward and lock arms in this moment because hate needs to have no place anywhere. It needs to be not welcome anywhere,” Drazin said.
The Texoma Region of ADL will host a Walk Against Hate in Dallas on Sept. 15 (see story on Page 4 of this week’s issue).