Anti-Semitism is an ancient form of hatred that has only morphed over the last few years. One could make the argument that this form of hatred, largely driven by conspiracy theories of Jews running the world, as written in the anti-Semitic book ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, has never really disappeared. On social media and on podcasts, influencers such as the popular Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie and celebrity comedian Nick Cannon have openly expressed hateful views against Jews. During the grip of the pandemic there has been a focus on our personal freedoms (wearing a mask vs. not wearing a mask) and free speech is part of that conversation. There is a big difference between free speech and inciting hate and violence, but more troubling is the environment being created on social media which encourages this type of speech to even happen.
Not all social media platforms are created equal, and in some cases the common understanding of what every platform focused on is changing during the pandemic. Some of the sites such as YouTube and Twitter have been hotbeds for anti-Semitism. Facebook, and the companies it owns such as Instagram have been known for profiting off the engagement of hate for many years. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent performance in front of Congress does not exude much faith in the world’s largest social network either.
The reality is that it is hard to disengage from the social platforms as they are part of our everyday personal and workday lives. Even a professional site such as LinkedIn has not been immune when corporate brands on the site championed the Black Lives Matter movement and bitter online arguments ensued. A good idea is to take a digital detox from these platforms occasionally as their addictive qualities are not beneficial to our general wellbeing. As a whole we are spending more time on social media than ever before. A recent “study by Israeli consultancy firm BDO confirms that employees spend roughly two hours of their workday socializing online while they work from home”, while employees have been productive, this may not be good for our overall mental health.
We are living during the time of “Cancel Culture”; celebrities, notables, or even an average person on Twitter can be cancelled for posting what is perceived as an offensive statement. Sadly, this has not been the case with anti-Semitism online. Some of the stories do seem to move in the right direction such as that of Eagle’s wide receiver DeSean Jackson. While there was obvious outrage from Jackson’s post, fellow Jewish NFL player Julian Edelman looked to engage Jackson and explain why his statements were hurtful. For others it seems, however, that making offensive statements may have gotten them fired, but that opened other professional doors such as the case with Nick Cannon.
The fact these beliefs and conspiracy theories are held are one problem, but another problem is that people of influence feel comfortable expressing them in public and on social media. This is not just a problem that has risen to the surface here in the United States, as CNN reports in the UK “incidents including the circulation of conspiracy theories accusing Jews of creating and spreading Covid-19, inventing the virus as a “hoax,” as well as anti-Semitic rhetoric, “simply wishing that Jewish people catch the virus and die.” In America anti-Semites dog whistle their hatred using code words; in other parts of the world they are direct with their hatred.
What we can do
The first thing is to always remain vigilant whether that be around synagogues or when keeping your own personal security in mind. The multiple challenges the pandemic has brought; protesting, rioting, and economic challenges have increased the chances that Jews may be targeted. Hate which is spewed online can quickly become violent in person, and every shooter tends to leave a digital trail of their hate after their acts of violence. The important thing to do is monitor it now, and when we can engage public figures and work to educate them, all the better.
It is a good idea to create a general protocol online and in person to protect yourself. If you see someone posting a racist or anti-Semitic statement online, you should report it to the platform. While we are adamant about our right to free speech, online hate speech is adding to an environment where violence against Jews is permissible and accepted. Before it makes morbid headlines, our goal should be stopping any kind of violence before it happens by reporting what we see online.
Difficult situations have only become tougher to deal with during the pandemic. It is precisely because of the global pandemic that we are all facing that scapegoating certain groups has become accepted. Judging by the tech giants’ reluctance to curtail most forms of hate speech, we will need to buckle down and remain strong during this trying period and be proactive in our monitoring of online hate.