Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s new and much-hyped video-sharing website Waywire bills itself as a more serious and socially conscious version of YouTube, which will help users circumvent “all the junk” posted on crowded sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but one thing the website has not been able to filter out yet is anti-Semitic videos.
Waywire, which was founded by Booker, former Gilt City president Nathan Richardson, and former TechCrunch executive Sarah Ross is still in its pre-launch Alpha phase and only recently opened up registration to the public. But users have already posted an array of clips that justify the Holocaust, blame the Sept. 11 attacks on Israel, and allege a Jewish monopoly of the media.
Searching for videos with hashtags like “Israel,” “Jewish” or “9/11” brings up a number of these clips, including “Bill Maher Agrees with Farrakhan! Jews Run America!,” “Why Did the Germans Dislike the Jews?,” and “American Mass Media is controlled by Zionists!”
While it is often difficult for social networking websites to remove content deemed offensive, sites like YouTube, Google, and Apple have recently taken steps to try to weed out anti-Semitism from their social networking platforms.
YouTube removed hundreds of videos last August after the Online Hate Prevention Institute released a report documenting alleged hate speech and anti-Semitism on the website. However, plenty of similar videos remain—in fact, many of the ones posted on Waywire are linked directly from YouTube.
It is unclear what role, if any, Booker plays in the day-to-day operations or strategic planning of the business. When asked whether Booker would make an effort to remove objectionable content from Waywire, his office said “We have reviewed your request for comment from Mayor Booker on this issue, and we are declining comment at this time.”
Because of the sheer number of videos uploaded to sites like YouTube, staffers tend to rely on users to bring inappropriate or offensive clips to their attention by “flagging” them. While Waywire does not appear to have a similar system in place at the moment, it also has far less content to deal with. For example, searching for “Israel” on YouTube brings up over 1.2 million video results, compared to just 451 results on Waywire.
Waywire has also tried to differentiate itself from YouTube by branding itself as more socially conscious and committed to positive change.
“Cory Booker, Nathan Richardson, and Sarah Ross saw that the Internet was full of places where young people could watch funny animal videos or clips from reality shows,” Waywire said in a statement posted to the site. “But there wasn’t a place to talk about the serious things which affect you as citizens. Things like getting a job, economic fairness, politics, and local and world events … [Waywire] is your forum for sharing those ideas.”
Critics say this mission statement clashes with the site’s actual content.
“It’s difficult to understand how the new video sharing site can be touted as an attempt to ‘elevate the global conversation’ when the first page of videos you see upon typing the word ‘Jew’ includes clips of Louis Farrakhan claiming Jews control the world, another evoking conspiracy theories based on the Rothschilds family, and another featuring Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel,” said Adam Levick, managing editor of CiF Watch, a website that monitors online anti-Semitism.
Others question the extent to which social media sites should be held responsible for offensive content posted by users, as long as they are not actively endorsing or encouraging it.
Internet freedom activist and New America Foundation fellow Marvin Ammori said websites like Waywire have the right to curate their own content to remove postings they find objectionable. But he added that Waywire “shouldn’t be liable for the speech of its users generally,” even if it was cofounded by a prominent politician and potential 2014 Senate candidate like Booker.
“Let’s say that you’re a politician and you happen to be an investor in a phone company, and people use the phone to conspire to break into a bank or something. The politician has nothing to do with that,” said Ammori. “If people think of Waywire as just another platform where people build a community with one another, then you can’t really blame Cory Booker for the stuff people put up there.”
Omri Ceren, a senior advisor at the Israel Project who has advised the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism on issues of online anti-Semitism, said a website like Waywire cannot expect to launch until it has the resources to monitor content and enforce its own terms of service.
“Organizations need to be willing to devote resources to monitoring hate speech in the same way that they would devote resources to making sure videos play correctly,” said Ceren. “Content moderation isn’t something that’s ‘extra’ to an online community: It’s one of the core elements of community management.”
Ceren also noted that Waywire’s terms of service (TOS) prohibit content that may be “harmful, fraudulent, deceptive, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, or otherwise objectionable.”
“Either the site doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure necessary to enforce its TOS, in which case it wasn’t ready to launch, or there’s something much more problematic going on,” he said.
Waywire did not respond to requests for comment as of publication time.
Update: Waywire spokeswoman Michele Clarke responded Thursday evening with the following statement:
#Waywire is committed to elevating the global conversation and actively promotes content that is positive and helpful. We also provide the opportunity directly on our video player window for users to report offensive content. This queues the video for human review but does not automatically pull down the video. If a #waywire editor deems the content as being outside our terms of service (hate speech, pornography, etc.), it ispulled from the site. We have not gotten any flags on the content you describe and encourage whomever reached out to you to flag the videos they find offensive to generate a review. We are now evaluating the videos in question. We take these matters very serioualy. Thank you for sharing your concerns.