(April 24, 2020 / JNS) Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of social-media harassment from running for Congress in Philadelphia in 2018 to being an outspoken advocate of Israel and the Jewish people. I’ve been targeted, listed, doxed and threatened with death on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but nothing felt more real to me than what happened last month.
I was moderating a Zoom webinar with Jewish teens from Boston and the State Department’s U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Ellie Cohanim. The consistent theme throughout the webinar was one of empowering the next generation of Jews to be proud of what we’ve accomplished as American Jewry and to never back down from Jew-haters, whether online or at the college campuses that many of these teens will soon call home.
At the end of the webinar, a well-known neo-Nazi/white supremacist (Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer) joined the Zoom link. Since all of the microphones were muted, he couldn’t speak, but his video was live. So he reverted to exposing his Nazi Germany swastika on his chest for all of the teens to see.
This hate crime done by a spineless individual (yes, you, Andrew) was done to intimidate and scare participants on the call. What happened after the “Zoombombing” took place made me proud to be a Jew, and gave me hope that the future generations of Jews are ready to carry the torch that I and others will one day pass on to them.
Within 24 hours afterwards, the teens reported the incident to the local police and subsequently filed a police report, reported the incident to Zoom, and with the help of Deputy Special Envoy Cohanim, the individual was identified and reported to the local FBI. The teens could have ignored the situation or worse, they could have been so scared of what transpired that they didn’t do anything. The message they sent in a little less than a week was one of strength, resolve and pride.
I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks what could have been done to prevent this hate crime from taking place. I think that social-media companies have become entirely too complacent with allowing vile hate speech to take root and spread on their platforms.
Earlier this week, as Jews all around the world observed Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a large group of Palestinians and their supporters launched the #Covid48 hashtag with several images depicting Israel as benefiting from the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. The “48” in their hashtag was a clear reference to 1948—the year that Israel achieved her independence.
On another social-media platform, TikTok, anti-Semitism is running rampant. What gives me cause for concern is the target audience of this platform is primarily under 18 years old, and it has been growing exponentially over the last 12 months.
My friends at Stop Antisemitism have been “naming names” for a while now, and they share the videos on their social-media platforms so people know what is happening on TikTok. But is TikTok taking any action to stop this from happening?
They did not. The videos remain on the platform, and the teen who post these videos benefits from more views and likes. It’s a sad state of affairs when in 2020, young teens can take to something like TikTok to proudly display their hatred for Jews and to celebrate Adolph Hitler.
Can you imagine? A teenager in America glorifying Adolph Hitler and making jokes about throwing Jews back in the showers for “more cleaning”?
There should be a zero-tolerance policy for individuals who use social-media platforms to incite violence and spread Jew-hatred. One strike, and you’re out. It’s that simple. Social-media companies should be pressured and held accountable to enforce their terms of service, holding users accountable for hate speech, and I support the independent third-party audits on those companies.
So the question must be asked: Are free speech and hate speech the same thing?
I don’t think so, and I think it’s time for the social-media giants to take a much tougher stance against the hate speech that takes root, grows and spreads on their platforms.
Enough is enough. Social-media companies must do a better job enforcing their own terms of services and should institute a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech.
Bryan E. Leib is a Philadelphia native who lives in New York City. He was previously with the Israeli-American Council, and in 2018 was the Republican Candidate for U.S. Congress in Philadelphia. He serves on the boards of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, Young Friends of the National Museum of American Jewish History and is a member of the JNF-USA Speakers Bureau.
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