Billionaire businessman Elon Musk is threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League for defamation, claiming that the Jewish organization’s statements about rising hate speech on X, previously known as Twitter, have savaged X’s advertising revenue.
Musk has been promoting extremist attacks against the ADL, a nonprofit Jewish organization committed to fighting all extremist hatred, regardless of its target. The rise of social media has provided a powerful platform for groups with radical ideologies to disseminate their views. This can lead to action: Neo-Nazis flew swastikas and saluted Hitler outside Disney World again. Social media has led to a proliferation of hate speech, bigotry and targeted harassment, with the Jewish community often being a prime target.
There have been massive increases in hateful content and harassment since Musk assumed leadership of Twitter. Bans against former users were rescinded, including the largest neo-Nazi website that uses his platform to recruit new followers. Musician Kanye (“Ye”) West once tweeted a picture of a Star of David merged with a swastika and Musk tweeted an antisemitic meme. ADL CEO and national president Jonathan Greenblatt recently met with Twitter’s CEO to discuss hate trafficking. Linda Yaccarino tweeted that “a strong and productive partnership is built on good intentions and candor.”
Recently released reports, “From Bad to Worse: Algorithmic Amplification of Antisemitism and Extremism” and “Auto-generating & Autocompleting Hate” showed the proliferation of antisemitic and other extremist hate on social media, the promotion of content from hate groups and violations of social media companies’ own policies.
Antisemites, white nationalists and conspiracy theorists began lashing out at the ADL following its participation in the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. The agitators launched a social-media campaign against the ADL to ban it on Twitter. Musk liked a tweet launching this movement by an Irish white nationalist who described himself as “a raging antisemite.”
The ADL stated that its recent meeting with Twitter leaders “clearly upset these hateful groups. Such insidious efforts don’t daunt us. Instead, they drive us to be unflinching in our commitment to fight hate in all its forms and ensure the safety of Jewish communities and other marginalized groups.”
The ADL, NAACP and other civil-rights organizations called for a temporary ad ban in response to the rise in bigotry on Twitter. The ADL has since resumed buying ads on the site. However, Musk questions his responsibility for the increase in hate and announced he wants to sue the ADL for billions of dollars because “the ADL has been trying to kill this platform.” The social-media company recently filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Musk is considering banning the ADL from using his platform. Musk bought Twitter last year. He considers himself a “free-speech absolutist.” However, Twitter changed its policies late last year so it could suspend an account that used publicly available flight data to track Musk’s private jet.
Greenblatt labeled Musk’s actions “flat out dangerous and deeply irresponsible,” calling the threatened lawsuit frivolous and urging “responsible leaders to lead.” There is a fine line between free speech and hateful incitement and between responsibility and regulation.
Even Musk stated that it was ironic that he would consider suing the Anti-Defamation League for defamation of his company.
The ADL was founded in September 1913 after American Jew, Leo Frank, was falsely accused of murdering a 13-year-old Christian girl in Atlanta. The case received sensationalized national media attention. His trial was marred by a biased investigation, a prejudiced jury and a hostile public sentiment fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda. Despite inconsistencies in the evidence against him, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death, then lynched by a mob after his sentence was commuted by Georgia’s governor.
Securing the Jewish Community for the High Holidays
Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos recently described the threats to American Jews: “It just caught my eye every time I go to a Jewish community building or a Jewish celebration, I see that they have to have someone guarding the door, a police officer. When I go to church, I don’t see that. I think that’s a reminder of the threat to the Jewish community.”
The Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement—represent significant annual communal events. Unfortunately, synagogues and other Jewish community organizations must increase security to guard against attacks. Extremists influenced by social media killed 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh and one Jewish worshipper in the shooting at Chabad of Poway, Calif.
Fake bomb threats (swatting attacks) have recently been called into synagogues to disrupt prayer services at dozens of Jewish houses of worship across the country. Israel has also warned its citizens of kidnapping threats over the holidays by Iranian-backed groups, especially Hamas.
“This urgent matter is the safety of the Jewish people in the face of increasing, intensifying antisemitism. Musk is engaging with and elevating these antisemites at a time when ADL is tracking a surge of bomb threats and swatting attacks of synagogues and Jewish institutions, dramatic levels of antisemitic propaganda being littered throughout Jewish and non-Jewish residential communities, and extremists marching openly through the streets in Nazi gear just two weeks away from the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
Points to consider:
- Words can be weapons and must be wielded carefully.
The power of words to shape opinions, ignite emotions and influence actions is unparalleled. Words can indeed be potent weapons, capable of inflicting harm and inciting conflict, or they can be tools for empathy and understanding. The digital age exponentially amplifies the impact of words, as they can spread rapidly and endure indefinitely. Misinformation, hate speech and vitriolic rhetoric can fuel polarization, sow discord and even incite violence. Leaders possess the potential to either contribute to constructive dialogue or exacerbate divisions within society. This responsibility requires careful consideration of language, tone and context—particularly by those in the public eye or those with large social-media followings.
- Social media is exploited to promote ignorance and increases the chances of extremist attacks.
The rise of social-media platforms has transformed the way America communicates, but also exposed society to hateful rhetoric and even live-streaming of attacks. Instant access to hate speech on social-media speeds the spread of misinformation, hate speech and extremist propaganda. These echo chambers can amplify existing prejudices, leading individuals down dangerous ideological paths. The result is an increased risk of extremist attacks, as these platforms can serve as recruitment and radicalization tools. Stricter content moderation and improved digital literacy are essential steps in mitigating the impact of extremist social-media content.
- Anti-Jewish hatred can lead to acts of violence—anytime, anywhere.
Hatred in any form can escalate into acts of violence, and anti-Jewish hatred is no exception. The persistent rise of anti-Jewish biases and fears demands vigilance and swift responses. It is crucial to recognize that antisemitic incidents can appear suddenly, even in places where Jewish communities have thrived for generations. In an increasingly interconnected world, the spread of hateful ideologies through digital media further amplifies this risk. Tackling anti-Jewish attacks on social media head-on and promoting a culture of tolerance will lead to an environment where every individual can live free from fear and discrimination.
- American Jews cannot take their security for granted.
The United States is founded on the principles of religious freedom and tolerance, and American Jews have a strong history of contributing to the nation’s fabric. Unfortunately, discrimination and prejudice persist. Antisemitism, both subtle and overt, fuels hate crimes targeting Jewish communities. Collaboration with law enforcement, engagement in interfaith programs and maintaining strong security measures at synagogues, schools and community centers—vital hubs of Jewish communal life—are all crucial steps in ensuring the safety and well-being of American Jews. By being vigilant and resilient, American Jews can continue to thrive in America.