Antisemitism may be the world’s oldest hatred – a persistent and lethal virus in the darkest realms of humanity – but it has found a new opportunity to breed, infect and cause untold harm on social media.
The online world, a realm of speech and ideas inseparable from our ‘real world’, has become a safe haven for those who hate Jewish people.
The appalling, unprecedented terrorist atrocity committed by Hamas on October 7 has cast Jewish people inside and outside Israel into unimaginable turmoil. Not only is world Jewry in greater physical danger than at any time since the Holocaust, but now it has to contend with bigotry and hatred broadcast 24/7 online, to audiences in all four corners of the globe.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that antisemitic hate on social media has boomed since the atrocities of October 7. Its recent study, published November 9, found that anti-Jewish rhetoric on Elon Musk’s X (formerly known as Twitter) spiked immediately after the attacks, amounting to a 919% week-over-week increase. Its investigation into antisemitism on Facebook – a much larger and more successful platform – showed a 28% surge.
Similarly, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) published a study on October 31 that found the number of antisemitic comments on conflict-related YouTube videos increased by 4,963% in the three days after Hamas’ attack compared to the previous three days.
But as illustrative and comprehensive as these studies are, they only tell us what you and I already knew. Antisemites see this as an opportunity and will feel emboldened to spout hate. But surely the social media companies are doing all they can to weed it out? After all, they have all claimed to be on red alert right now.
There is even more troubling news on that front.
My organization, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, sought to analyze the rate at which digital platforms remove clear antisemitism that is in breach of the platforms’ own rules when users notify them of its presence.
Just this past week, we found that Musk’s X failed to remove all but four tweets from a sample of 200 separate hateful posts (98%). Of the 146 tweets containing antisemitism specifically, they only took action against two (1.4%). Each of the posts were published after October 7 and, perversely, appeared to be inspired by the atrocities committed against Israelis that day.
We gave X a full seven days to take action after we initially flagged the offending posts to its moderators using the platforms’ official reporting tools. This is an unacceptable failure rate – and yet, a grimly inevitable result of the changes that have been made since Musk completed his takeover of X a year ago.
This includes the decision to cut safety and moderation staff to the bone – as well as Musk’s personal decision to put the Bat Signal up to welcome back previously banned hate actors, one of his first acts as Twitter’s proprietor.
More recently, the platform has offered anyone willing to pay $8 a month the status of ‘verified user’, as well as increased visibility of their posts – no questions asked.
Whether it is Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) or neo-Nazis, Musk has created a safe space for antisemitic actors and has sought to make a virtue of it. He has even personally endorsed anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – he described the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people have pushed a “dialectical hatred” against white people as “the actual truth”.
These are not the actions of a fit and proper leader of one of the most influential mass communications tools in human history.
It is right that the light of public scrutiny has been trained on X since Musk’s acquisition 12 months ago. But to focus exclusively on it would be a mistake. Our latest research builds on many years of work exposing the failures of social media companies to ensure Jewish people are safe on their platforms.
The platforms we have all come to rely on for news, entertainment and connection – who have all amassed great wealth and prestige in the process – are guilty of betraying Jewish communities all over the world.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. These moral failures, which originate in the boardrooms of Silicon Valley and Beijing, have terrible consequences in the ‘real world’, where the rest of us live.
Israelis will be grimly familiar with the terrible specter of antisemitic violence. Increasingly, Jewish people in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are being forced to confront the fear that their neighbors and countrymen will look at them differently, treat them differently – potentially even wish to harm them – because of what they’ve been exposed to on social media. This is an intolerable injustice. Jews deserve peace, prosperity and security as much as anyone else.
The unprecedented levels of online antisemitism we now see will require unprecedented effort, resources and dedication to fight. Which is why it is so disappointing that ubiquitous social media companies have proven themselves incapable, unwilling and uninterested in protecting Jewish people.