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July 3, 2020 10:26 am

Online Marketplaces Must Do More to Tackle Antisemitism

avatar by Simon Butler


Adolf Hitler giving a Nazi salute. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Despite the societal changes sparked by the ongoing anti-racism protests, mounting antisemitism continues to be an afterthought — especially in the online-marketplace arena, where the advertising of Nazi-themed products is pervasive. But despite the no-tolerance policies espoused by these platforms, Jew hatred remains a commodity, and the mechanisms utilized to mitigate the problem clearly aren’t sufficient.

Take OfferUp, for example. The company lets users buy items ranging from electronics to cars from nearby “neighbors,” who tout their offerings on the website. Among these products was an “action figurine” of Adolf Hitler — which, according to company spokesperson Brandon Vaughan, was removed after complaints by this author.

A statement provided by Vaughan supplied clarification: “We do not allow items that promote, support, or commemorate groups or individuals with views of hatred or intolerance on OfferUp — they are considered prohibited. This includes anything representing Hitler as a statue, figurine, action figure or doll. We actively remove items that violate our prohibited items guidelines through a mix of automated and manual review. We are always improving our removal tools, but if you see a prohibited item on OfferUp, please report it in the app. On that item’s page, tap the flag icon, then Report, then Prohibited on OfferUp, then Done.”

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Although this provides some answers, it doesn’t explain why so many antisemitic items without historic or aesthetic merit remain on the site or what criteria the automated system uses to flag content. Copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf also still appear on the site.

This feeds into another question: how products are assessed for their historical value or their capacity to promote bigotry and titillate an antisemitic audience. A recent exchange with a staffer at Ask eBay, the namesake company’s Twitter support account, illuminated this dilemma following notification of the availability of Nazi-themed items on eBay such as these.

“Sometimes, things do get on the site that should not be,” explained the staffer via Twitter direct messaging, adding that “there are many collectible items from that time that eBay would like to help historians and collectors of antiquities trade, such as German currency and stamps from Nazi Germany, as they are not generally propaganda in nature.”

The staffer noted, however, that although eBay has “tools that will send an item for review, without a member report,” user-reported items “can help bump up the priority, especially if it’s an item that glorifies hatred or is deemed offensive.” This depends on whether the item in question is “a Germany government item” (e.g., coins and stamps) or “a Nazi item,” which encompasses “historical Holocaust-related and Nazi-related items, including reproductions,” as well as “Nazi propaganda” and anything that’s “anti-Semitic or any item from after 1933 that bears a swastika.”

But this doesn’t address why these companies depend so greatly on their customers to report antisemitic content rather than endeavor to remove such products completely by themselves, with augmented trust and safety teams. It does, however, channel additional concerns about this environment. When the marketplaces we trust to safely provide us with goods and services feature hateful content, we have few other places to turn for help.

As we change with the times, the companies we patronize must do so, too. The alternative is letting online antisemitism grow.

And no one but antisemites is going to buy that.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. During his career, he has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek. His views and opinions are his own.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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