TOMS RIVER, NJ — A controversial Facebook page that has been accused of hosting anti-Semitic content was taken down briefly on Friday, but later restored, angering New Jersey’s attorney general.
Rise Up Ocean County, the Facebook page started in October 2018 by a group of Ocean County residents over concerns about overdevelopment in the county, has been condemned by state and some local officials, including the Ocean County freeholders, as anti-Semitic. The group has insisted it is only concerned about protecting the environment and the area from overdevelopment.
Crowded roads and concerns about water supplies and pressures on services have become a constant theme in Ocean County in the last five years, particularly as the population of Lakewood and its large Orthodox Jewish community have rapidly expanded.
The rapid growth in Lakewood and cultural differences have caused a great deal of conflict; as the Rise Up Ocean County page has grown, it became a flashpoint, drawing representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who pressed officials to pass resolutions condemning it as anti-Semitic.
In April 2019, state officials condemned the page, with the director of New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights, Rachel Wainer Apter, sending a letter to Facebook asking the social media company to examine the page and address the state’s concerns. Read more: NJ Asks Facebook To Monitor Rise Up Ocean County Group
On Friday, the page was taken down for several hours, prompting praise from Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for Facebook.
“We had serious concerns with racist and anti-Semitic statements on the page, including an explicit goal of preventing Orthodox Jews from moving to Ocean County and we made clear our view that the page appeared to violate Facebook’s terms of service,” a joint statement from Murphy and Grewal said. “We have continued to follow up with Facebook since that initial letter in April, and we renewed our concerns as recently as this week.”
“We appreciate that Facebook has taken some steps to address anti-Semitic content on the page, but much more can be done, and we believe that Facebook must make lasting reforms to stop the spread of hate on the internet,” the statement said. “The Murphy Administration will continue to call out hate whenever and wherever we see it, and we will continue working to make New Jersey a safe and inclusive place for all of our residents.”
However, at 4:15 p.m. the page was restored, with a note from the administrators saying they had unpublished the page amid what appeared to be some kind of hacking incident.
The restoration of the page infuriated Grewal: “It’s outrageous that just as our Jewish brothers and sisters are gathering to celebrate the Sabbath, ‘Rise Up Ocean County’ decides to reinstate its page. Is this really the kind of online community thatwants to cultivate?”
The group’s administrators said in a post on the republished page that the issue started early Friday morning, when they started receiving notifications that indicated the Facebook page “was under a coordinated attack.”
“At 3 a.m. we made the decision to unpublish the page, thereby rendering the attack harmless,” the group wrote. At 4:15 p.m. they republished the page after removing a number of posts that could have been an issue with Facebook.
News of the page’s apparent demise circulated among a number of sites, with the Lakewood Scoop and others that cover the Orthodox Jewish community cheering the removal.
The page administrators, who have published a number of scathing posts about local officials in connection with the overdevelopment concerns, wrote that regardless of what Facebook does, they will continue their efforts to fight those issues.
The group also has a website, a Twitter account and an Instagram account for publishing its information, and promised to “be far more active on those three platforms in the coming days.”