Ten months after New Jersey officials first raised concerns about a Facebook page that many said was peddling in anti-Semitic tropes, Facebook notified state officials that the page has been removed permanently.
The page, which had some 19,000 “Likes,” was shutdown on Wednesday.
Organizers claimed that the “Rise Up Ocean County” Facebook page was aimed at preserving the county’s open spaces and more rural way of life amid a rapid growth in the size of the Jewish community in Lakewood and surrounding towns in Ocean County.
However, critics, including numerous Jewish groups and the director of state’s Civil Rights Division, Rachel Wainer Apter, noted that the group used their platform to disparage the growing Orthodox community in their area.
Wainer Apter sent a letter to Facebook in April 2019 asking them to look into the “Rise Up” page, which included comments like, “We need to get rid of them, like Hitler did”; “I live on the edge of Toms River and Lakewood, and the gang war has begun”; “I have my mac 11 loaded”; and “I’m knocking out the first person I see from Lakewood at the meeting tomorrow. Again, not a threat. It’s a promise.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, in a joint statement with the state’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, said, “We just learned that Facebook has decided to take down the public page on the company’s social network called ‘Rise Up Ocean County.’ … We’ve consistently and repeatedly made clear our view that the page appeared to violate Facebook’s terms of service, and we appreciate that Facebook has now decided that this kind of hateful rhetoric has no place on its platform.”
The page had been temporarily removed by Facebook earlier this year, but now it will be permanently offline for violating the company’s terms of service.
But organizers are urging Facebook to reverse its decision and say they are not the problem, and that they “hide comments, delete comments and ban users that make inappropriate comments under our posts. … We have in fact exercised great caution in our posts and our comments to insure that at all times we complied with Facebook community standards,” they wrote in a post on their website. “The platform is too valuable to our efforts to risk losing it.”
It went on to say, “The major concern from the governor and attorney general seems to be our focus on the Orthodox Jewish community that is driving that growth. Our dialogue regarding that community is coincidental; there is no animosity represented toward that community by our page and no hint of anti-Semitism. To the contrary, in our About section we make it clear that we welcome ALL to our efforts.”
Nevertheless, regional Jewish organizations disputed the claims by the Facebook group’s organizers and approved of the decision to shut it down.
Avi Schnall, executive director of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office, also praised Facebook’s decision.
“ ‘Rise Up Ocean County’ has been operating under the pretense of opposing overdevelopment, but in reality, the group was dedicated to disparaging Orthodox Jews, often using ugly tropes that have plagued society for too long,” said Avi Schnall, executive director of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office.
“We are thankful that Facebook has finally recognized their true motives and, at the urging of Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Grubir Grewal, removed their site. Unfortunately, online hate speech is a growing problem that needs to be taken on full force,” he said.
Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s vice president of the northeast division, also lauded the move.
“ADL has repeatedly expressed serious concern regarding the racist and anti-Semitic content on this page, which has caused significant fear and distress among the Jewish community of New Jersey,” he said. “We will continue to work with our partners in government and the tech community to stem the rising tide of hate online.”