Social Media Hate Speech: See Something? Say Something?

We saw it once again in the social media postings of the Pittsburg Tree of Life Synagogue shooter, the red flags of violent anti- Semitism were posted for all the world to see.
While the reports from law enforcement detailed how the perpetrator never had been a “person of interest,” precluding officers from officially using time and resources on monitoring him or just about any other bigot unleashing such vitriol, we, the country’s everyday citizens, have no such limitations.

Considering that there are millions of postings every hour online, the obvious question vexing us all naturally is — can we make a difference?

The answer, as it now stands, is not substantially, unless we create, develop, and grow an alliance that finally includes a serious recognition that the involvement of each and every one of us as a human resource is needed to counter this monumental 21st century threat.
Surrender never has been an option for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Twenty-five years ago, the Center was the first institution of its kind to demand accountability without qualification from emerging internet giants by establishing our Digital Terrorism and Hate Project. The collective genius that has designed these powerful marketing and communication tools always has possessed the parallel wherewithal to degrade the online capabilities of bigots and terrorists.

In March 2019, the Center once again will release our annual report, which provides easily comprehensible letter grades to compare the performances in this area of each of the mass publicly used internet companies and social media platforms. We also continue to work diligently with law enforcement on the local and national level as they too struggle with the social media tsunami of hate speech within the context of their responsibilities, and the appropriate but vigorous necessity of the application of the law. Our most important partner, however, is you and your family.

Our children are online constantly. Their iPhones, their iPads, and newly promoted devices that are being created or updated constantly make them targets of hate. We also must recognize that they also are a target for recruitment. It is easy to throw up your hands as a parent and say there’s nothing we can do.

That sentiment, though, is simply wrong.

You are the frontline of the battle against anti-Semitism. Sit down with your children and ask them what they have been seeing. How do they react to the hate that they encounter? Urge them to tell you immediately when they experience online bigotry. And if they and/or you see something — say something!

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has developed and advertised apps that allow for such information to be transmitted to our experts with the utmost ease, so that they can research, evaluate, and act upon your findings and use its relationships with the social media giants to ensure that what is found to be troublesome or dangerous is dealt with.
Are you unfamiliar with the apps? Then simply email the suspected links to our offices and we will take care of it.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has taken on the responsibility of teaching these lessons, developing workshops for middle school and high school students that can be taught during a single school period. The workshops teach how to identify anti-Semitism. The necessity of such training is multifaceted.

Firstly, we need to teach social responsibility to our next generation of young people to identify what constitutes online hate and how to deal with bullying.

Secondly, almost all our children are now on social gaming sites, such as the ever-present Fortnite. Unfortunately, some of these most popular interactive games also have drawn the attention and involvement of the same extremists whom we need to be wary of but who so often are innocently overlooked by youth. We have to empower our children with strategies telling them how to deal with such situations.

We all have our roles in facing this challenge. We all have a responsibility in facing this challenge. Together, we can make a difference!

To see the full report or to report a site, download Digital Terror and Hate from the app store or Google Play.

About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.