On November 9, Twitter user @voidmstr tweeted at Shutterstock, a leading American stock photography company, an image hosted on their site that depicts Jews as money hungry people, an age-old anti-Semitic stereotype. It took five days until the image and the related photo series were taken down. However, with a simple search of keywords “Jewish “ and “money,” the photos can still be viewed on competitor site depositphotos.com.
I cannot comment on what the intentions behind the pictures were, but we need to get answers to some fundamental questions: Are image hosting and stock photography sites remaining vigilant in keeping racist and stereotypical images off their sites and how does this play into the larger national landscape of how tech companies are manipulated by extremists to promote their hate speech?
In this specific scenario, the market of this anti-Semitic photo involves three players: the photographers that pose and sell stock photography, the websites that host their photos, and the people buying the photos. Should we place the blame on the photographers who may be responding to image requests, either by websites or by consumers? There’s no way to know the full motives behind any of the players, although one can ironically guess…money.
This question is not a first amendment issue and whether we should allow the creation of these images. The larger issue is: why are these images still popping up and mischaracterizing the Jewish people on such a popular website like Shutterstock? These kind of images draw out bigots from the woodwork, validating the racist thoughts they harbor. Just as garbage attracts flies, we must first dispose the garbage before swatting the flies.
How we tackle this issue will have real-world implications. America is facing a surge of anti-Semitic acts over the past couple of years. From Charlottesville’s white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in 2016, the desecration of Jewish tombstones in St. Louis in 2017, to the fatal shooting of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago. The Anti-Defamation League reported a rise of 60% of anti-Semitic acts in 2017.
In at least two of these major incidents, social media and online relationships played a serious role. The people who marched in Charlottesville and the Pittsburgh shooter were reported to have used social media and lesser-known, second-tier websites to spread their hate, since their speech was considered too extreme for Twitter and Facebook. One of the ways racists communicate their hate speech is through memes and doctored images. An image that may seem innocuous, such as the picture in question, is ammunition in the hands of anti-Semites who can then share on their preferred sites. The Pittsburgh shooter, for example, used a social media site called Gab to blast his anti-Semitic rhetoric with others who held similar views about Jewish people and even posted on Gab right before the shooting. The site was taken down after the shooting and has recently been put online again.
Given the known stereotypical conflation of Jews and money, no reasonable person viewing these photos would consider them appropriate. If these images can’t be used for corny or fun advertising, then exactly who are these photos for? We must hold the sites, photographers and purchasers responsible for profiting from these images. Remaining vigilant against the barrage of anti-Semitism, in all of its forms, is the only way to confront the bigotry to which the Jewish people have been subject for centuries.