Understanding Antisemitism on Social Media

Posted on February 23, 2024 in Explainers.

Antisemitism: man sitting on concrete brick with opened laptop on his lap

Antisemitism, or hatred and discrimination against Jewish people, is a pervasive hatred that has existed for centuries. However, this age-old prejudice has found new avenues to spread and amplify on social media.

CCDH has shown how social media platforms are failing to stop the amplification of antisemitism or to act when antisemitic content is reported to them. We’ll take a closer look at how antisemitism manifests on social media, and how platforms can effectively combat it. We’ll also explore the real-world consequences of online antisemitism, including its role in inciting offline crimes and atrocities.

What is antisemitism?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” 

This definition includes various forms of hatred, discrimination, and racism against Jewish people, such as verbal attacks, physical violence, and discriminatory treatment based on their Jewish identity. It also encompasses anti-Jewish rhetoric, stereotypes, and conspiracy theories that perpetuate harmful beliefs about Jews.

Common antisemitic tropes

Antisemitic tropes are harmful stereotypes and myths that have been used to demonize and discriminate against Jews. Some examples of common antisemitic tropes are the false narratives that Jewish people control the world’s financial systems and global media; blood libel, which falsely alleges Jewish people use the blood of non-Jewish children for ritualistic purposes; and Holocaust denial, which denies the systematic genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II.

These age-old narratives are now replicated online in different formats. The QAnon conspiracy, for example, promotes several baseless antisemitic narratives online, including claims straight out of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a false document heralded as proof of a Jewish plot to control the world. George Soros and the Rothschild family are often targets of these tropes. QAnon followers also came up with a new version of the gruesome medieval blood libel trope.

It’s important to note that these tropes are baseless and perpetuate harmful stereotypes and discrimination against Jews. They have been used historically to justify violence, discrimination, and persecution against Jewish communities, and continue to be spread on social media platforms today.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany
Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

How antisemitic rhetoric spreads online

Social media companies have repeatedly failed to take sufficient action to stop the spread of antisemitism on their platforms. CCDH’s research has shown a rise in antisemitic hate online, especially after the Hamas attack on Israel on 7th October 2023, and the ensuing conflict. 

In November 2023, we reported to X, formerly Twitter, 140 posts that promoted antisemitism, including racist caricatures and Holocaust denial. A week later, Elon Musk’s platform continued to host 85% of the posts. In the same month, we found that TikTok was failing to enforce its rules on antisemitism despite claims stating otherwise. The platform kept hosting videos containing Holocaust denial, conspiracies and hate against Jewish people.

CCDH has also identified the use of AI as a new tool to create antisemitic content. In December 2023, we found posts on X promoting antisemitic AI-generated images replicated from the online forum 4chan. These posts accrued 2.2 million views on X. We also found that the AI tool Midjourney is often used to fabricate hateful images in order to support antisemitic conspiracies, and the platform is failing to enforce its own rules against racist content.

The spread of antisemitism online is not a new phenomenon. In 2021, we reported 714 posts containing antisemitic conspiracies, extremism, and abuse on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. These platforms took no action on 84% of posts. Facebook performed worst, failing to act on 89% of cases.

What is the offline impact of antisemitism?

Online antisemitism helps to normalize hatred against Jewish people. The consequences of this process are the rise of hatred and threats Jewish people face in the streets and the increased radicalization of those who carry out violent crimes and atrocities in our communities.

In some cases, individuals who are radicalized by anti-Jewish hatred have gone on to commit offline crimes and atrocities. For example, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, in 2018, in which 11 people were killed, was carried out by a man who had been radicalized by online conspiracy theories about Jewish influence and power.

In 2019, another man who had been radicalized by online antisemitic rhetoric killed one person and injured three in a synagogue in Poway, California. A year later, a man was arrested for plotting to bomb a synagogue in Colorado, after being radicalized by white supremacist ideology that he had found online.

These acts of violence illustrate the most extreme outcomes of allowing antisemitic content to go unchecked on social media platforms. Our research also shows that the unchecked proliferation of antisemitic content online impacts the views that people hold. Our polling on the false conspiratorial statement ‘Jewish people have a disproportionate amount of control over the media, politics and the economy.’ found that while 43% of 13-17 year old Americans polled agreed this with, this percentage rose to 54% among those with high social media use.

While social media companies have a responsibility to protect their users from hate speech and radicalization, individuals can also play a role by reporting antisemitic content when they see it, and by speaking out against online hatred and intolerance.

Social media platforms are enabling the spread of antisemitism: black phone
Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

Some actions to tackle the spread of antisemitism online

Social media, AI tools, and other online spaces must prioritize people’s safety and ensure their platforms are not enabling the spread of antisemitism.

  • Social media platforms must enforce their own policies against racist hate, and improve their content moderation to stop the amplification of hateful content.
  • AI companies and tools must prioritize safety from the outset, incorporating mechanisms to curate training data and prevent the spread of harmful, misleading, or hateful content. 
  • Governments and legislators must implement comprehensive social media reform, and ensure there are financial disincentives for the tolerance of hateful extremism.

You can report antisemitic content and misinformation to most social media platforms using their own reporting tools.

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