August 21, 2017
“With the advent of the Internet, antisemitic messages are disseminated more quickly and widely than ever before, and often go unchallenged,” opens a new report from the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) based out of Indiana University. The report, “Best Practices to Combat Antisemitism on Social Media,” was prepared for the U.S. Department of State as part of an effort between Indiana University and the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. The study, conducted in spring of 2017, utilized the same definition of anti-Semitism used by the U.S. State Department. The study saw the ISCA send out a survey to non-governmental organizations, who have worked against anti-Semitism, 17 of which took the time to respond. The NGOs represented were from more than ten different countries. The second part of the report revolved around searching social media platforms for anti-Semitic posts, with a particular focus on Twitter, then analyzed the background of the repeat offenders.
The study reports that, based on the surveys conducted, “traditional” or “classic” anti-Semitism is the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism found on social media platforms. Stereotypes include the idea that Jews control the financial world, media and Hollywood, and are engaged in an attempt to destroy traditional or nationality-centered societies. Many of the organizations that were surveyed also noted a rise in “what can be termed as the new antisemitism” directed against Israel, which attempts to portray Israelis or Zionists as the “new Nazis.” The study’s analysis of Twitter messages also revealed that the most influential disseminators of anti-Semitic messages are white nationalist individuals, many who “self-identified or [are] clearly affiliated [with the] alt-right.” The study further documented the patterns in anti-Semitic terminology, and discovered that the three most active posters of the term “Holohoax,” used to indicate a belief the holocaust is a fabrication, garnered between 4,884 and 18,265 followers. These numbers display the large pool of supporters that gather around these anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.
The study credits NGOs around the world with being at the “forefront of flagging anti-Semitic content” online, but points to the “vast quantity of anti-Semitic messages and accounts” as an obstacle to erasing this form of bigotry from social media. Another stated obstacle is the reluctance of social media platforms to block content or users for “ideological and financial reasons,” many of which revolve around issues of “free speech.” In European nations, governments increasingly pressure internet service providers and social media platforms to remove hateful content. In the case of the United States, however, this is rarely the case. Few NGOs are engaged in counter speech, or the stating of counter narratives by questioning and rejecting anti-Semitic logic, as it is believed that these counter narratives have difficulty reaching the “target audiences” and not granting anti-Semitic messages more of a platform than if they were never challenged in the first place.
The study enumerates various best practices that these NGOs have found in every approach to fighting against anti-Semitism. The study contends that one of the biggest challenges facing groups fighting anti-Semitism, as stated by all NGOs surveyed, is simply making more people aware of the “presence and destructive potential of online antisemitism.” The reports concludes that while not all anti-Semitic content can be removed, there are various means by which NGOs and those who support them can turn the tide against anti-Semitism online. The major recommendations of the study include the closing of influential anti-Semitic accounts, intensified international cooperation between different NGOs, lawmakers, and IT companies, and the forming of more effective alliances between various NGOs who combat hate speech that takes all forms. The report, however, stresses that alliances between groups that fight hate speech may not be helpful “for combating antisemitism in the form of anti-Zionist antisemities,” and that alliances with “organizations that combat Islamist terrorism” might be more effective in that avenue. The report does not conclude optimistically, but that is the reality of online based anti-Semitism.
The advent of the digital age brought about the ability for hate groups to become hyper-connected, the emergence of our rapid-fire, individual, social media outlets led to an even larger boom in anti-Semitism, as these websites and services provide any individual with a platform and access to a large audience. NGOs, like the Louis D. Brandeis Center, must continue to lead the fight against all forms of anti-Semitism, and not tire in the relentless fight against this persistent form of bigotry.