With the release of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 25th annual Digital Terrorism and Hate Report on Monday, a key Jewish New York City leader says that the hate filtering out onto the streets has its origins on social media.
“What we know to exist—that hate is on the rise—and the high-profile cases on the news are often the endpoint of hate,” Eric Dinowitz, New York City Council member and chair of the council’s Jewish Caucus, told JNS. “We see the assaults in Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square. We see mass murders at synagogues and supermarkets. And what this report card shows us are those seeds of hate are the precursors to physical violence.”
Dinowitz was among those council members, including Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, present during Monday’s report presentation, which includes a report card grading social-media companies on their failure to curb online hate.
Google and YouTube received a “B-”; Facebook and Instagram received a “C”; TikTok got a “D”; Twitter a “D-”; and Telegram an “F.” Amazon made its report-card debut, earning a “C.”
The report warns of increased antisemitic, racist, anti-LGBTQ messaging and calls for violence against black, immigrant and Jewish residents.
Rick Eaton, director of research at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JNS that TikTok is of prime concern at the moment, stressing the reasons have nothing to do with the politics behind its Chinese ownership.
“It’s solely the fact that they have something like 1 billion users. A good percentage of those are young people—something in the neighborhood of 30% to 40%,” he said. He cited postings by Holocaust deniers and minimizers, and a hateful meme of Anne Frank, next to material lauding school shooters, racists and other bigots.
Telegram, said Eaton, has become the site of choice for the Acceleration movement, which claims it seeks to destroy society and rebuild it through the lens of white supremacy. The movement is an outgrowth of the Atomwaffen Division, a terrorist neo-Nazi organization that formed out of Iron March, an influential fascist forum that went offline in the fall of 2017.
Eaton said the Wiesenthal Center’s studies found that the largest amount of hateful content is found on Telegram. Meanwhile, the report criticizes Twitter, which had largely cleaned up ISIS and white supremacist-heavy content, for allowing Nazis and Holocaust deniers back on the site under its current management.
He pointed specifically to Jew-hater Nick Fuentes and the radical British imam Anjem Choudary, who has shown support for terrorism, as examples of those who have been allowed to re-engage with Twitter.
The report also takes Amazon to task as an example of the “monetization of hate.” The e-commerce site includes items for sale such as swastika jewelry and a skull mask associated with neo-Nazi groups, which are linked together through Amazon’s “other people bought this” algorithm.
Eaton told JNS that the hate generated online is translating to the real world, citing the shootings earlier this year of two Orthodox Jewish men outside synagogues in Los Angeles. In that case, the suspect told police that he drew inspiration in part from fliers he had seen pinning the effects of the COVID pandemic on Jews.
‘Educating our communities and our youth’
Such hate has manifested itself in New York as well.
“You have the Black Hebrew Israelites, and they made noise after the Kanye dustup this fall, and then when Kyrie Irving posted this movie on Amazon,” said Eaton. He referred to the Black Hebrew Israelites movement’s public displays after rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, made antisemitic comments online that immediately went viral. He also noted an antisemitic film sold on Amazon and promoted by then-Brooklyn Nets basketball player Kyrie Irving that drew widespread attention.
The Black Hebrew Israelites claim that they are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites and that modern-day Jews are imposters.
“There was one incident in particular outside the Barclays Center where Irving was playing,” said Eaton, referring to the sports venue in Brooklyn, N.Y., “and the Black Hebrew Israelites were outside initiating confrontations with Jews. In that instance, hate was largely sparked and promoted online.”
Dinowitz said it’s disturbing that the depth of online hate no longer comes as a shock: “I think it’s very chilling when we’re no longer surprised at the images we know are being circulated on social media and throughout our country.”
He pointed to the challenges of the lack of oversight and the sprawling availability of hate content for children. He also said the federal government needs to be pushed to develop more regulations on the issue and to hold social-media companies “accountable for language that instigates violence.”
The city council works with the Wiesenthal Center year-round on youth workshops to combat digital hate, said Dinowitz, “and educating our communities and our youth, making them more resilient and knowledgeable on how to push back against this hate and recognize the hate they are seeing about all different groups as untrue and hurtful.”
Meanwhile, Eaton said online hate hasn’t just evolved or shifted to different sites. It’s getting worse—and rapidly so.
“It’s gone more mainstream,” he emphasized. “There’s people that are posting and seeing this stuff that would have never done it even two or three years ago.”