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Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler
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Digital antisemitism: The largest propaganda machine since the Holocaust

Social media is spreading unprecedented Jew-hatred, and that's before AI starts using algorithms to discriminate against Jews
An untitled cartoon published by a Bahrain news outlet on November 27 depicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu driving through Gaza in a blood-soaked tank while pulling the Statue of Liberty and US President Joe Biden behind him. (The Anti-Defamation League, via The Times of Israel)
An untitled cartoon published by a Bahrain news outlet on November 27 depicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu driving through Gaza in a blood-soaked tank while pulling the Statue of Liberty and US President Joe Biden behind him. (The Anti-Defamation League, via The Times of Israel)

This past year in Israel, the world saw the most egregious attack against the Jewish people since the Holocaust. It led to a global surge in antisemitism that has reminded Jews around the world of this dark period in history. It has become apparent that the epidemic of disinformation on social media is translating into in-person antisemitism, and it seems that the connection between rhetoric, persuasion, and actions — which characterized Nazi propaganda — has returned and is taking a toll on the Jewish people at a scale not seen in the last 75 years. The current war has spread far beyond the borders of Gaza into the global digital space. The State of Israel is conflated with the Jewish people, and Jewish communities around the world are bearing this burden.

We have entered an era of “digital antisemitism.” It is driven, first and foremost, by the insufficient enforcement of moderation policies on social media platforms, allowing antisemitic and Holocaust denial content to reach unprecedented levels of exposure and interactions. Prominent neo-Nazi accounts have millions of followers as the social media companies sit idly by. The content algorithm, which sends users down “rabbit holes” is fertile ground for the unprecedented distribution of antisemitic content. The scope of this phenomenon is far greater than commonly understood, as this type of messaging is particularly prominent in languages other than English, such as Arabic, Spanish, Russian and more. The bulk of the antisemitic content is, therefore, proliferating under the radar of both Israel and America.

It is worth noting that the social networks’ community standards indicating what types of speech violates the rules for minority groups do not address the unique characteristics of antisemitism. As a result, it is not acceptable to write something abhorrent such as, “Africans are stupid,” but it is acceptable to write that “Jews control the money of the world.” Furthermore, the word “Zionist” is used as a proxy anywhere “Jew” would not be allowed on social network, to circumvent being flagged as antisemitic.

The social media platforms’ enforcement failures and lack of accountability for digital antisemitism are exacerbated by the transition to the Metaverse (in gaming company forums), by the presence of antisemitic apps in the app store, and more.

We are also seeing the simultaneous development of two other types of digital antisemitism.

One type is algorithmic, artificial intelligence (AI)-based antisemitism. If, in the days of the Third Reich, Jews and Jewish businesses were marked accordingly, we may begin to witness a situation in which Jews are being discriminated against when seeking to purchase products or services from an online platform. What if the AI systems determine who is Jewish and raise the price or indicate that product is not available? Such discrimination would be known only to the algorithmic system and would be very difficult to track. Algorithmic antisemitism exists when one prompts a generative AI system to create texts, images or videos on the topic of Israel or Jews. The results are often stereotypical, generating ultra-Orthodox Jews, big noses, and the like. Other AI related discrimination include deleting, changing, rewriting, and falsifying reality and history, spreading antisemitic content on a mass scale with high levels of conviction.

The second type is data-based antisemitism. In today’s world, where sensitive information is easily obtainable, ethnic origin — even if someone is not 100% Jewish — is easy to find. Several months ago, the genetic database of the company 23&Me was hacked, and information pertaining only to Ashkenazi Jews was stolen. AI decoding of genetic information, last name, address, occupation, and other sensitive information can be utilized to create lists and databases of Jews all over the world. This could be used as the basis for persecution, targeting, and discrimination.

We are seeing, clear as day, that the four technological revolutions of our time — the information revolution, the surveillance revolution, the man-machine revolution, and the cyber revolution — all have consequences for the Jewish people. It is also clear that the decisions and policies of governments and multinational organizations have a direct consequence on antisemitism on a global scale. They are responsible for spreading toxic content on social media and for creating synthetic content using machines, and therefore must devise legal frameworks to protect against surveillance and privacy violations, as well as developing cyber security standards. Now is the time to identify and question the connection between the business model of big tech and the deterioration of the situation for Jews.

This year, as we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, the State of Israel, Jewish communities, and Jewish organizations must not be passive consumers of new technologies. They must actively take a role in setting the tone for policy, design and distribution, lest they become victims of it.

This article was written in loving memory of my grandmother, Judith (Eran) Klein, an Auschwitz survivor who devoted much of her time to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and who passed away about two years ago.

About the Author
Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler is a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and an expert in law and technology
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