Antisemitism has been a trend on social media lately. You may not see the exact term “anti-Semitism,” which the Anti-Defamation League defines as “the belief or conduct hostile to Jews simply because they are Jews.” But you may have taken a look at Yes’s hateful tweets to Jewish people or clicked on Kyrie Irving’s link to an anti-Semitic documentary. Or maybe read the reports of the influx of antisemitism on Twitter after the Elon Musk takeover and the 912 percent increase in antisemitic content on TikTok as reported in 2021.
As a writer covering internet culture, I’ve heard about it, and yet I didn’t say anything online at first. I grew up in a Jewish community, my father was a Yiddish expert and my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I am proud and openly Jewish – personally. I rarely post online about anti-Semitism or anything Jewish.
Every time I think of posting something about antisemitism, I feel selfish, like I’m taking away from other causes. I’m already asking myself: do I really have a story? Am I just making this up? But as I interviewed various Jewish creators for this piece, I realized that this is not a resurgence of anti-Semitism on social media. It has always been there and it has never gone away. Not only does the world have to reckon with that, but I do too.
Liz Kleinrock (@teachandtransform) is a non-judgmental, anti-racist educator, author, and presenter with over 170,000 followers on Instagram. She posts educational, text-based graphics about parts of her own identity, like being Jewish or Asian-American, as well as content related to broader social issues like anti-fat prejudice and abortion. And yet, she never turns off comments on her posts — except for one type of post.
“There’s no other topic where I need to turn off comments on a post as much as when I’m talking about anti-Semitism or Jewish identity,” Kleinrock said in an interview with Passionfruit.
After completing an email interview with Monika Pretty, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Haifa who studies anti-Semitism on social media, it became clear that the abuse Kleinrock described is all too common. Handsome, co-editor of a book entitled antisemitism on social mediaexplained that her research has revealed that anti-Semitism is spreading on social media at an “unprecedented” rate.
Prettyr added that understanding social media algorithms that people are spending more time on “incendiary” content goes a long way – allowing platforms to offer it more often. This is also done to keep users online, which creates revenue for these platforms. The European Commission’s investigation confirms this: it found a seven-fold increase in antisemitism on French-speaking social media accounts and a 13-fold increase in the German accounts examined.
What is even more alarming is that social media companies are not doing enough to reduce anti-Semitism, says Schreiner.
“I fail to understand how little has been done to curb hate on social media and how inadequate combat strategies still are given the threat the issue poses,” she continued. “We know that perpetrators of terrorist attacks against Jewish communities in the US and Germany have used social media extensively to spread hate and seek validation for their hateful attitudes.”
Again, research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate confirms this: the nonprofit research center found that social media companies ignored 84% of reported cases anti-Semitic posts.
If this research is only for reported posts, then who knows what’s going on with unreported posts Posts – of which there are many, added Pretty. The research associate at the University of Duisburg-Essen explained that social media companies rely primarily on artificial intelligence [AI] to recognize hate.
But AI can only recognize what humans are programming it for. These people only speak so many languages, know only so much about anti-Semitic images and words, and can only adjust the AI programming so many times. Also, much of the antisemitism on social media is coded. People don’t always say things openly like Ye. They use memes and words that alert other anti-Semites to their bigotry, which bypasses the hate-patrolling AI.
An example of this are emojis. Many anti-Semites use the rat emoji in conjunction with the Star of David or the Israeli flag to express their hatred of the Jewish people. This coded anti-Semitism stems from Nazi propaganda, which often compared Jews to rats. The Nazis even used a common rat pesticide, Zyklon B, in the gas chambers to murder Jewish people.
“As anti-Semitism adapts to restrictions on social media, … uncovering them remains an endless game of cat and mouse,” Lucischer said.
Online teacher Tyler Samuels (@bluntblackjew) often posts Jewish history and Pictures of Jewish Life on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. Samuels told Passionfruit that as a black Jewish man, he struggled with elevated levels of racial hatred.
Samuels receives messages that he can’t be “really” Jewish because he’s black, or if he just went to Israel and saw how black people were treated, he would realize that he doesn’t want to be Jewish at all. Some messages even include a clip of a deceased rabbi expressing racist views.
“They focus more on our Blackness than our Judaism,” Samuels said. “Then they use it as a weapon against us.”
Speaking to Passionfruit, Samuels added that he believes antisemites get away with much of their coded rhetoric and emojis because most people don’t know what antisemitism looks and sounds like. He even goes out of his way to post some of the hateful messages he receives on his Instagram story, explaining why those messages are anti-Semitic so people can learn to recognize them.
Kleinrock’s direct messages and comments are also full of anti-Semitic messages. The educator took some of these phrases straight from her DMs to create a graphic that illustrates the “covert” anti-Semitism that Kleinrock calls “socially acceptable” anti-Semitism. Sentences like: “I hired a Holocaust speaker, so I can’t be an anti-Semite” or “Jews control Hollywood” are just some of these “acceptable” ways of signaling anti-Semitism in some circles of society.
Pretty and her colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen are currently researching what young, non-Jewish Germans know about Jews, Jewish life and the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism. Based on their research, it appears these educational moments from Samuels and Kleinrock are much needed on social media.
“Although young people take a firm stand against anti-Semitism, they can’t decipher it on social media,” explained Schreiner. “High follower numbers and the number of likes and comments under anti-Semitic content suggest confirmation or even truth.”
That’s when I realized that anti-Semitism isn’t just bad, it’s a lot worse than I thought. I had to lie down after reading this answer from Pretty. The worst part was knowing that I didn’t even have the courage to speak out against this hate that directly threatens me and my family.
So I decided to ask Blair Mlotek, a member of the tribe and co-founder of a social media agency, CLEO Social, about my own dislike of posting about anti-Semitism. Perhaps, as a professional social media person, she would know why.
“I can only speak about this as a normal Jew, not as the founder of a social media agency,” said Mlotek. “We just always feel that people don’t react to anti-Semitism in the same way as they do to other hate.”
This feeling was also confirmed by everyone I interviewed for this piece: Anti-Semitism is not taken seriously. Adidas only dropped Ye after boasting that the company would never cut ties with him, despite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Everywhere there are struggles where non-Jews determine what is anti-Semitic and what is not. And anti-Semitic hate crimes continue to rise.
So of course I’m sitting around wondering if anti-Semitism is even “that bad”. We live in a world whose actions tell the Jews: You’re exaggerating, get over it.
Shoshana Greenwald (@shoshbg), who runs an Instagram account with over 7,000 followers who often posts about Jewish life and antisemitism, told me that posting about antisemitism is a journey for her. I was relieved to hear that she, an orthodox woman, was also struggling with this. I thought it would have been a walk in the park for her.
“At first I didn’t take it for granted that I would speak out so openly and decisively against anti-Semitism,” said Greenwald.
Greenwald gave me some advice for overcoming this fear and posting about antisemitism: “I really feel sorry for any Jewish person who is afraid to speak out about these issues because fighting antisemitism shouldn’t be up to Jews, correct? It should be on everyone else,” she said. “So if I’m someone who has the ability to roar and scream – which sometimes feels like screaming into the abyss – then that’s my choice. And if you play it safe and don’t need to talk about it, I really sympathize and understand that.”
I see this being modeled by all of the creators I spoke to for this piece. They are confronted with anti-Semitism on a daily basis, but continue to defend themselves not only against anti-Semitism but against all forms of hatred. They also post about the joys of being Jewish, because hatred isn’t the only thing that defines Jewish people. Kleinrock hosts rooms for Jewish affinity online. Samuel’s Contributions to the Rich History of Jamaican Jews. Greenwald chronicles her everyday life as an orthodox woman.
We can’t just let these Jewish creators stand up for us, we need everyone to post and speak out about antisemitism – especially non-Jews. I’ll go first: I’ll post this article when I would normally be too anxious to do so, although I often post about my writing. I know it’s a small step, but I have to start somewhere.
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