7 November, 2017

The Internet as a Way to Fight Antisemitism

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Category: Antisemitism
Community Manager
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protest_placardWritten by Eline Jeanne, Media Diversity Institute

The 9th and 10th of November mark the No Hate Speech Movement’s Action Days countering antisemitic hate speech. It is also on these date in 1938 when the Kristallnacht occurred in Germany; a pogrom targeting the Jewish community. These two days urge people to think about antisemitism today, a form of hate speech which is still very much present.

The internet acts as a two-edged sword when it comes to hate speech. On one hand, it offers those with hateful things to say an easy avenue to do so. The internet can keep someone anonymous and allows them to detach from what they are saying, giving people an outlet to say things which they might never say to someone in person. However, amongst these hateful incidents, the Internet also facilitates more ways to fight antisemitism. People are able to speak up about antisemitism via social media in a way that they could not before.

It is important to be aware of the number of antisemitic incidents that continue to occur. The Community Security Trust, known as CST, is a charity which focuses on protecting British Jews from antisemitism. They recently released an eye-opening report documenting the antisemitic incidents that occurred within the first six months of 2017. CST recorded 767 antisemitic incidents in the UK in these first six months of 2017, which is a sharp increase from 2016, where there were 589 antisemitic incidents in the first six months of the year.

CST also reported on the number of antisemitic incidents that occur online, predominantly on social media. There were 142 antisemitic incidents that occurred on social media in the first six months of 2017. While this is already a large number, CST makes clear that a lot more antisemitic behavior takes place online than just 142 incidents. They state in their report: “These totals are only indicative, as the actual amount of antisemitic content that is generated and disseminated on social media is much larger. Targeted campaigns directed at individual victims can sometimes involve dozens of social media account sending hundreds or even thousands of tweets, images or posts, using material that is created centrally, usually on neo-Nazi websites”.

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Such statistics are concerning, as they show that the Internet is being used regularly to spread antisemitism. However, the Internet can also be a useful and successful tool in fighting antisemitism. Reporting online antisemitism is a successful way of fighting it. One positive aspect of antisemitism occurring online is that there is clear evidence; if someone tweets an antisemitic message, the victim can use this tweet as evidence. An example of this is Belgian politician Laurent Louis, who used his Facebook and Twitter accounts to voice his antisemitic beliefs.  Because Louis was a public figure, many people filed complaints against his antisemitic proclamations. Ultimately, Louis received a large fine and was sentenced to six months in prison, due to his continuing denial of the Holocaust. This case show how Internet offers accountability, and how the online community can use the Internet to help bring an end to online antisemitism.

There has been some positive change when it comes to the responsibility of social media platforms in tackling hate speech. These platforms have to get involved when it comes to hate speech, as most of it is happening on their domains. For a long time, the majority of IT companies did not respond to people’s reports of hate speech. However, this seems to be changing.  Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have more stringent policies in place for reporting and dealing with hate speech. In 2016, the biggest IT companies operating in Europe signed a code of conduct drafted by the European Commission in cooperation with several NGOs. This code of conduct acts as a guide for social media platforms on how to deal with hate speech on their platforms, but many are still the challenges ahead when it comes to identification of hate speech and transparency. It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to fighting online antisemitism. However, we are seeing more and more cases of people coming together online to try and stop the spread of antisemitism. The Internet and its wide reach could be used for good, providing tools and support for fighting antisemitism.


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