We must confront online hate head on

Online abuse (Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Online abuse (Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash via Jewish News)

I doubt that many people will have been surprised at the latest hate crime statistics on antisemitism published last week by the Home Office. That information, showed a year on year rise of seven percent in antisemitic hate in England and Wales. These statistics are extremely worrying, but do not come as any sort of shock. Perhaps the only surprising thing about them is that these yearly stats only go up to March 2021, meaning that they exclude the antisemitism-filled months of May and June of this year. Those months will feature prominently in next year’s figures, of that I am quite sure.

There is, however, another point to consider, which is that this increase in antisemitism came at the same time as a decrease of 18 percent in offences against individuals from all religions. So, while offences against Jews rose, simultaneously, offences against individuals from at least some other religions decreased dramatically. While of course we can be pleased that  those of other faith groups apparently received less targeted bigotry during the period in question, it does raise a question; why did offences against other religious groups drop, while antisemitic offences rose?

The answer may very well have to do with the circumstances from March 2020- March 2021. For a significant portion of this period, England and Wales were under lockdown due to the pandemic, meaning that real life interactions were automatically curtailed and that there were far fewer opportunities for in-person attacks.

Social media, by contrast, was open for business 24-7 during lockdown. And as we are unfortunately well-aware, antisemitism is very much present online – not just on the major platforms, but also on smaller ones which have far fewer users but often people with far more extreme politics. The response of the major platforms towards combating antisemitism has generally been apathetic at best. The smaller platforms, however, seem perfectly content to tolerate, or even encourage, the spread of antisemitism. The recent report from Hope Not Hate shows examples of both sorts of companies; Tik Tok, for instance, appears to be fighting a losing battle in terms of cracking down on antisemitism, while companies like Telegram appear not to be fighting the battle at all.

The Board of Deputies is working closely with the Government to try and ensure that the upcoming Online Safety Bill will properly address the growing problem of online hate. Ofcom, which will take on new powers of regulation with regards to social media as part of the Bill, has already adopted the IHRA definition with regard to its current duties. We are keen to ensure that it does the same in respect of the new elements of its jurisdiction when these are received. We are strongly recommending that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport write to Ofcom to recommend just that.

Our organisation is determined to ensure that Jewish users do not regard antisemitic abuse online as an inevitability. And it is my profound hope that a few years from now, as social media companies will have no choice but to show antisemites the door, we will begin to see a steady decline in antisemitic incidents shown in such annual Home Office statistics. It is time for the current free-for-all of online hate to end.

About the Author
Amanda is a Vice President at the Board of Deputies and represents The Hampstead Synagogue on the Board. She was one of the first cohort of the Dangoor Senior Leadership Programme, run by LEAD