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Goebbels would have ‘liked’ today’s social media

Tech companies must institute a revolutionary change to deal with online hate before more attacks are initiated through their platforms. It should not take another Tree of Life shooting for real progress to be made.

A quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower on the exterior of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower on the exterior of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Steven Stalinsky
Steven Stalinsky

At the entrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Hall of Remembrance stands a quote of a statement made by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, regarding his visit to Germany’s Ohrdruf concentration camp on April 15, 1945: “The things I saw beggar description. … The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were so overpowering. … I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.”

Tomorrow marks 75 years to the day since Eisenhower made that powerful statement. His words can be used to describe the rampant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial now finding fertile ground online. As Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—is marked on April 20, the events of the past two years and the ones happening daily worldwide are all reminders of today’s unprecedented anti-Semitism. Often, what drives these attacks is online incitement to violence. Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels would have “liked” today’s social media—and would have had many followers.

Just as it is impossible to imagine the development of the global jihad movement without the Internet, the same can be said about the current development and spread of anti-Semitism. Major search engines and social media platforms, both established and mainstream and new and obscure, figure prominently in the surging spread of hatred and incitement to violence against Jews. Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and Instagram—not to mention secondary networks known to host anti-Semitic content—are all to blame.

While these companies are under pressure to institute changes on issues from terrorist content to Russian election interference to various forms of “fake news,” they must also be pressured to find solutions for the anti-Semitism they are hosting and promoting. This certainly applies to the vast amount of anti-Semitism all over social media related to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the platforms mentioned above, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are now using the pandemic as an opportunity to spread hate against Jews and other minorities, especially the Chinese—something jihadis have done as well. A growing number of these groups and their supporters are speculating that the pandemic is a hoax; some are saying that the global health crisis is orchestrated by the Jews, and they are involved in cyber attacks such as hacking into synagogues’ and Jewish organizations’ online meetings. This highlights domestic terrorists’ growing reliance on the cyber realm—in addition to hacking, using encryption, fundraising with cryptocurrency, and continuing to expand their efforts recruiting.

They are also using the pandemic to spread fear online and, most troubling, have called to deliberately infect Jews with the virus. There is extensive online chatter in which participants state that they are infected and seek to become biological weapons. Sites for spreading infection are discussed, among them supermarkets and hospitals. Also discussed are visiting synagogues and coughing in the faces of rabbis.

The vast and ever-growing amount of anti-Semitism online today that is driving white supremacist and domestic terrorist groups parallels the massive quantity of online jihadi content that played a direct role in the rapid rise of Islamic State (ISIS). In 2014, the dissemination on Twitter and YouTube of the video of ISIS’s beheading of American journalist James Foley prompted the companies to finally take action. Likewise, the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue attacks, which were linked to social media, should have motivated the platforms to finally tackle anti-Semitism online—but so far, they have not.

These platforms include 8chan, where the Poway shooterChristchurch mosque shooter and El Paso Walmart shooter posted their manifestos; Gab, where the Pittsburgh shooter posted warnings prior to his attack, and Facebook, where the Christchurch shooter livestreamed his. While 8chan went offline following the El Paso shooting, it has now returned as 8kun.

Like a modern-day Der Stürmer, the Nazi propaganda publication, these online apps and networks spread anti-Semitic content, ranging from timeworn canards such as blood libels and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to conspiracy theories. They host accounts of well-known anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, including David Duke and groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and many others who are not household names but are major influencers of white supremacists and domestic terrorism groups. Their content, not to mention actual Nazi-era propaganda and memorabilia, are also easily available on Amazon.

Thousands of videos of Hitler, Nazi Germany, and other Nazi content, including issues of Der Stürmer itself, are being shared, liked, tweeted and forwarded on these platforms. At the same time, newer material such as explicit calls for targeting and killing Jews, including “hunting” guides and naming of specific Jews for doxxing, violence and even murder, are prevalent as well. It was reported recently that on one Telegram channel, suspected neo-Nazis are listing Jews and using violent rhetoric against them including ones such as “[W]e should kill all of these Jews. Who’s with me?”

Anti-Semites on social media are also using other sophisticated methods, including bots, to facilitate their efforts, and are also impersonating prominent Orthodox rabbis and other Jewish leaders online, creating fake Twitter and other accounts that promote virulent anti-Semitic content. An anonymous 4chan user explained: “We must create a massive movement of fake Jewish profiles on Facebook, Twitter, etc.,” with the aim of avoiding censorship by social media companies and spreading conspiracy theories about Jewish involvement in slavery, the global economy, mass media and the pornography industry.

Anti-Semitic groups previously on life support are, via social media, having new life breathed into them. Old, tired propaganda is gaining new adherents, and the online community of haters is growing exponentially. This online activity is another reminder that tech companies—and Congress—are still failing to address the issue of stopping hate groups from using their platforms so freely. For years now, well-meaning members of Congress have tried unsuccessfully to tackle this issue, but have so far failed to have any serious impact.

Tech companies must come up with industry standards to deal with anti-Semitism. They must institute a revolutionary change—before still more attacks are initiated through their platforms. It should not take another Tree of Life shooting for real progress to be made.

Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), which, through its Domestic Terrorist Threat Monitor (DTTM) Project, is actively working with Congress and tech companies on ways to fight anti-Semitism online.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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