Best Startups Chosen in NIF Competition to Combat Web Incitement

06 December 2012 By Ruby Ong

6 December 2012

NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel (left) and NIF President Brian Lurie (second from right) present the first-place award to Adi Zuta,Alon Bar-David and Liron Pato.

In October, NIF announced the launch of a unique competition for projects working to address online hate speech, a growing problem in Israel’s polarized and high-tech-savvy society. Dozens of startups submitted proposals vying for the $25,000 prize to implement the best projects.  After a thorough review, the winning projects were announced at a widely-covered award ceremony in Tel Aviv.

First place was awarded to three first-year business administration students at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center - Adi Zuta, Alon Bar-David, and Liron Pato. They propose establishing a student volunteer organization, monitoring web incitement, and working with major sites to add icons that users can click to alert the site, and send a copy of the inciting comment. Volunteers will filter harmful comments and the site will report on how the offending user has been handled. Add-on applications for tool bars will be developed to assist media sites.

Bar-David said, "We already tried to get this project off the ground with Walla, one of Israel's biggest news websites, but we had to stop the project through lack of funds. This gives us the boost to get going again."

In second place were Yael Klieger Navon and David Schwartz. Navon, an ultra-Orthodox mother of five from Beitar Illit, set up the magazine "Haredim Nice to Know You," which aims to stimulate dialogue between Haredim and secular Jews. Schwartz is head of the Wix Connect division at website builder Wix. Their project Facegood is an automatic tool installed by the user that identifies offensive posts and automatically reacts with a personal, conciliatory response, creating a more positive atmosphere in online public dialogue.

Third place winners Noa Hameiri and Lior Guata proposed a project to help keep violent incitement from Facebook.  

The competition is the latest stage in a groundbreaking NIF campaign to uncover and raise awareness about the scale of online incitement in Israel. A survey on the topic commissioned by NIF, which was published last month on the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, found that one third of all posts on political and social subjects were racist or violent.

The research examined 4,000 posts on social websites from the past six months focusing on inciting remarks directed at Arabs, refugees, the ultra-Orthodox, settlers, leftists, the Supreme Court, politicians and journalists. The survey found that Arabs were by far the most vilified group with 50% of comments directed against them containing racist or violent sentiments, followed by refugees (43%) and leftists (also 43%), settlers (32%) and the ultra-Orthodox (19%).

A special prize was given to the youngest competitor, 13 year old new immigrant Ilya Blum. He devised a game in which classes are divided in half and encouraged insult each other based on stereotypes.  By the end of the game, the children will understand what it's like to be stigmatized and have empathy for the other side. Ilya and his project were the subject of a major article in Israel's biggest daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot.