Anti-Semitism is an issue Jews have faced from before the birth of our nation, and through the ages, it has taken on many different forms. The latest method anti-Semites have used to target Jews is the internet. This phenomenon of cyber anti-Semitism has become a huge problem in the Jewish community because of the plethora of shapes it can take, the variety of Jews which it affects, and the severity of the internet attacks. From Twitter to TikTok to 4chan, anti-Semitism has thrived in every corner of the world wide web. Just a few weeks ago, antismetism rocked the internet when it was discovered that a simple Google search for “Jewish baby stroller” yielded pictures of ovens on wheels in a clear allusion to the crematoria of the Holocaust.
While most mainstream social media companies claim to remain steadfastly committed to combating and preventing hate speech and anti-Semitism on online forums, their efforts seem to be falling utterly short of that goal. On TikTok, an immensely popular app with a user base consisting primarily of young people, there is rampant anti-Semetic speech against Jewish users, and app moderators seem to be doing little, if anything, to prevent it. One Jewish TikTok user, named Eli, reported to The Jerusalem Post that she receives comments on her videos (which contain subject matter irrelevant to Israel or Judaism) ranging from endless strings of the Palesinian flag to blatant death threats. When I asked Aviva Lehman, a Jewish TikTok influencer with over 250,000 followers, for some of the anti-Semitic comments she has recieved on her videos, her first response was, “OMG I have so many, [it] might take a second [to send them].” It seems TikTok has not made an effort to remove such hate comments on videos posted by Jewish creators, and in fact, the app’s content filtering system seems to be skewed against Jews. Eli said she “has reported accounts with Nazi stuff [that have not been] taken down,” but accounts with content about Israel “get mass reported and taken down” despite complying with TikTok community guidelines.
Furthermore, even in circumstances where social media companies have made real efforts to combat anti-Semitic hate speech, it can be very difficult for simple algorithms to detect. Online users who spread anti-Semitic hate often do so through images containing stereotypes and fabricated conspiracies, as well as through codes such as using the word “juice” instead of Jews. This is done to avoid censorship and removal, and very often it succeeds, as images and code words are harder for moderators to notice than other instances of hate speech.
While social media companies have, as a whole, been unsuccessful at combating cyber anti-Semitism, other organizations have been taking steps to improve detection of, and response to, this form of hate. The Alfred-Landecker Foundation and the Center for Research on Antisemitism has recently joined forces to work against cyber anti-Semitism. This project, called Decoding Antisemitism, uses complex artificial intelligence, as well as a team of discourse analysts, computational linguists, and historians to identify and prevent online Antisemitism. Dr. Matthais J. Becker, project leader of Decoding Antisemitism said, “In order to prevent that more and more users become radicalized on the web, it is important to identify the real dimensions of anti-Semitism – also taking into account the implicit forms that might become more explicit over time.” Additionally, a bipartisan congressional group has recently announced the creation of an international task force whose purpose is to take action against cyber anti-Semitism. “We know that what may begin as online threats in the virtual world can lead to violence in the real world,” said Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida. “We hope this (group against anti-Semitism) will help advance the conversation that’s premised upon the fundamental understanding that we just shouldn’t accept this spread of antisemitism that we’ve seen on social media platforms.”
Many individuals have also been hard at work to stop cyber anti-Semitism on social media platforms. A number of Jewish users of TikTok, having been victims of cyber anti-Semitism, have begun publishing content directed at educating misguided or ignorant anti-Semites by disproving stereotypes and supporting Israel. Lehman said, “I’ve noticed that a lot of the anti-Semitic comments I get are just genuinely uneducated people and its really great to see when I respond to them and actually get to… change their minds.” Aline, another Jewish TikTok creator started a group chat for Jewish TikTok users who want to combat “anti-Semitism and lies told about Israel.” In the group chat, members share historical or political information that can be used to disprove lies told about Jews and Israel, and they also share anti-Semitic videos so more people report them, thus increasing the odds of them being taken down.
The bottom line is that social media will continue to expand, and as it does so will cyber anti-Semitism. It will likely be a struggle for years to come, but fighting against all different forms of anti-Semitism is nothing new for the Jewish people, and we will continue to learn how to combat it in unique and innovative ways.Sneakers