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Julie Gray

Who is responsible for Felix Cipher?

Gidon Lev & Felix Cipher on TikTok

Felix Cipher is a young person from Colorado who created a TikTok account and cosplayed Adolf Hitler. As of yesterday, Felix was a trending hashtag and meme. As of today, they are canceled. 

But who is this Cipher? We don’t really know. We know that Felix is trans and that they like snakes and own a great many of them. We know Felix has posed wearing Nazi-era pins and that they sport a haircut reminiscent of Hitler’s. They recently added a new nose ring which gives the effect of the infamous mustache favored by Hitler. Felix talked about eugenics and other Nazi ideology in their now deleted videos and banned account. All of this happened very rapidly, this deleting and banning. 

And I played a part in it. My life partner, Gidon Lev, and I share Gidon’s story as a Holocaust survivor and teach Holocaust education on TikTok. Gidon’s account has almost half a million followers. We noticed one of Felix’s videos, and we made a “duet” — meaning on half the screen, viewers could see Felix, and on the other half, Gidon looks on with disgust. That video has over one million views and metastasized throughout TikTok, spawning hundreds of other condemnatory videos. Felix followed up with a new video, claiming that they are the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. Felix then commented on our video: 

Haha, it’s me! Sorry my men had you in a camp, ol’ pal, but I’m back for a reason.

It is clear that Felix is “not okay,” that they are young, and that they may not understand the consequences of their actions. Many commenters have encouraged Felix to harm themselves. Many have threatened harm. Others posted their address and place of work. Threats and doxing are morally wrong on every level. Encouraging a person to take their life is despicable. 

Now, a Facebook group is dedicated to “holding Felix accountable.” In it, people claim to have known Felix in the past. Some are shocked by this behavior, and others say they saw it coming. Claims have been made that Felix is autistic and bipolar. Someone called animal control to check in on the safety of Felix’s numerous snake pets. Several people claim to have spoken to Felix’s family and that his parents are ashamed, upset, and deeply concerned. Felix is not a minor. They are reportedly either 20 or 21 years old. Their parents can only do so much and may not have been aware of their adult child’s online behavior. 

Perhaps Felix was only cosplaying? Dressing up outlandishly to shock us or be “edgy?” Maybe they need to understand what they are doing. But – who is Felix? I keep asking myself this. What caused Felix to take these actions? Are they dangerous to themselves or others? Do they own a gun? Might they take their ideology out from behind their keyboard and cause real-life harm? Given the rise in antisemitism in the US, we must take people like Felix seriously. 

Recently, I spoke with ADL’s Center for Technology & Society, sharing my concerns about antisemitism, specifically on TikTok. The CTS is preparing a social media “report card.” To do so, they are gathering data about how responsive various platforms are to reports of hate and abuse. During our conversation, I pointed out that TikTok does not have a category for antisemitism, making reporting Jew hatred convoluted and, worse, undocumented. Further, most reports come back as not having “violated community guidelines.” 

I find it hard to believe that having engineered and finessed algorithms that efficiently pinpoint that I like to watch TikToks about cooking and drag queens teaching math, Byte Dance is incapable of flagging an account featuring a person cosplaying Hitler and touting eugenics.  

The real-world harm caused by social media platform foot-dragging is incalculable. Before Felix’s account was either self-deleted or banned, they gained at least a thousand followers. Felix’s double-down comment to Gidon (quoted above) received several “likes.”  

Who or what is to blame here? Loneliness, mental health struggles, and the social media that provides a place for someone to feel special? Is it the disgraceful state of Holocaust education in the United States? According to CNN, 31 US States do not require Holocaust education. Change may be coming to that end. Two bipartisan bills were introduced in January 2023. The Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act aims to study the state of Holocaust education and the curriculum used and create a report card. It’s a significant step forward, but the conclusions won’t arrive or create change soon enough for me. 

In Europe, change may come more quickly. The Digital Services Act, which went into effect in the EU in November 2022, will make compliance with better moderation standards something with teeth – and Tal Or and the team at Tel Aviv start-up Cyberwell are ready to take action. Cyberwell has created the world’s first live database of antisemitism online.  

I would never want to go through the immense strain, shame, and anger Felix’s family must be feeling right now. But I believe that somewhere out there, there is another Felix and another, and they are like loaded guns.  

About the Author
Writer, editor and content creator Julie Gray lives in Northern Israel with her life partner, Gidon Lev. Let's Make Things Better, co-authored by Gidon and Julie will be available in Fall 2024 (Hachette/Pan MacMillan).
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