Facebook and hate speech, a Swastika Trail in Canada and a decline in violent anti-Semitic attacks

Facebook to predict hate speech

In congressional testimony, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg predicted that the popular social media application would have the tools to stop hate speech before it spreads within the next decade. Zuckerberg, speaking April 10 to senators concerned in part about Facebook’s susceptibility to foreign powers who would use the service to meddle in American elections, said Facebook at first had been reactive to offensive and dangerous content, removing it only after it had spread. More recently, Facebook has been able to knock down terrorist recruitment as soon as it is posted, using artificial intelligence. He said he hoped to apply that technology to hate speech. “Hate speech — I am optimistic that over a five- to 10-year period we will have [artificial intelligence] tools that can get into some of the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate, to be flagging things to our systems, but today we’re just not there on that,” he said. “Until we get it automated, there’s a higher error rate than I’m happy with.” Controlling hate speech in social media has been a major concern of Jewish groups in recent years, chief among them the Anti-Defamation League, which has lobbied Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to build defenses against its proliferation.—JTA

Swastika Trail street sign

A Swastika Trail street sign hanging in Puslinch Township, Canada. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Did you know there’s a Swastika Trail in Canada?

Residents of a town in Canada have launched an application for judicial review of the local council’s decision not to rename a street called Swastika Trail. In January, the Puslinch Township Council in Ontario voted 4-1 against changing the name of the privately owned road. Two months earlier, the neighborhood association voted to keep the name. The application alleges that the voting process by the Bayview Cottagers Association was unfair and biased. “There is no place for a street with the name of a symbol of anti-Semitic hatred in modern Canada, and the irregularities preceding Puslinch Council’s vote on this matter must be addressed,” Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement issued April 11. The street was named in the 1920s, but residents told The Canadian Press that the swastika should not be vilified as a Nazi symbol. They pointed out that it is an ancient religious symbol meaning life and good work in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. A town in northern Ontario is named Swastika for a local goldmine that used the symbol for good luck. –JTA

Number of violent anti-Semitic attacks worldwide dropped in 2017

Violent anti-Semitic attacks worldwide directed against Jewish communities, Jewish people and their property decreased by about 9 percent in 2017, according to an annual report. There were 327 cases in 2017 compared to 361 in 2016, according to the annual “Antisemitism Worldwide” report by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. The data were published April 11, on the eve of Israel’s national day of remembrance of the Holocaust. This year’s 103-page report is a global overview combining surveys from recognized watchdogs from dozens of countries, including nearly all European Union member states. During the years 2006 to 2014, the violent cases worldwide numbered between 600 to 700 per year, according to the report, but have decreased in recent years to between 300 to 400. The last weeks of 2017 were characterized by a large number of anti-Semitic events worldwide, with the recognition by President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel said to be the catalyst, according to the report. Demonstrations against the recognition included attacks on Jews, anti-Semitic slogans including calls for murder and the burning of the Israeli flag.

Read more: Number of violent anti-Semitic attacks worldwide dropped in 2017, report finds

Pussy Riot

Nadya Tolokonnikova, left, and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot at the Greenwich Film Festival in Connecticut, June 6, 2015. (Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for Greenwich Film Festival 2015)

Pussy Riot cancels Israel concert

The political band Pussy Riot canceled a show in Israel without specifying why, and an Israeli paper reported that it could be for “technical issues.” The Russian group, known for its anti-Putin performance art, announced the cancellation on April 7. Members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had urged the band not to perform last month and earlier this month. The band’s tweet and Facebook post did not give a reason for the cancellation. Israel Hayom reported that the Israeli promoter of the show said “technical issues” derailed the concert. Maria Alyokhina and Olga Borisova, two of the group’s members, are still slated to make an appearance at the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem on May 8, The Times of Israel reported. They will perform a piece called “The Authors’ Revolt,” which draws from Alyhokhina’s memoir, “Riot Days.” The book recounts her time spent in Russian prison following a series of public protests.–JTA


Two Egon Schiele paintings to be returned Holocaust victim’s heirs

A New York court ruled that two Nazi-looted drawings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele must be returned to the heirs of an Austrian Holocaust victim. “Woman in a Black Pinafore” and “Woman Hiding her Face” should be handed over to the heirs of Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum, an Austrian-Jewish entertainer who died in 1941 in the Dachau concentration camp, Justice Charles Ramos of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled late last week. Grunbaum owned some 450 artworks, including more than 80 by Schiele. The collection was seized by the Nazis after he was arrested in 1938 and sent to Dachau. The judge cited the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, or HEAR, in ruling against the London-based dealer Richard Nagy, who claimed that he had legally acquired the two drawings in a 1956 sale of about 50 Schiele works by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law to a gallery in Switzerland, Reuters reported. The law extends the statute of limitations for the stolen artwork to six years from the date that the art in question is identified and located, and from when the claimant has shown evidence of possession of the art. The two drawings were identified in 2015 at an art and design show in New York City in a booth operated by Nagy. The Grunbaum heirs were named in the case as Timothy Reif, David Frankel and Milos Vavra. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a sponsor of the HEAR legislation, said in a tweet that he was proud to see the law “is helping to facilitate the return of artwork stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust to their rightful heirs.”–JTA

Israeli flag

Israeli flag (File photo)

Israel at 70

This year, Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel’s independence day, starts on the evening of April 18 and ends the following night. Special celebrations will be held in the Jewish state, around the world, across the United States and right here in Baltimore.

Find information and learn about the history of the Jewish state here.


Go to facebook.com/JMORELiving every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. to watch Need to Know with Editor-in-Chief Alan Feiler. Join the discussion on the week’s news and current events.