Antisemitism has been around forever, but its recent increase on the streets of New York, Paris and London has led people to ask: “Why now?” And one reason often cited is social media.
Social media – Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram, Tik Tok – is full of antisemitic posts that create an environment that legitimizes attacks, says Yarden Ben-Yosef, the head of an organization called ACT-IL that monitors the social media platforms to find poison messages and have them removed.
The effects of antisemitic posts on social media are similar to a Nike advertisement campaign, Ben-Yosef said. Just as an effective product advertisement creates an emotional feeling among customers, to want to take their feeling toward the product to the next step and actually buy it, so too does constant antisemitic content in social media inspire people to take the next step regarding antisemitic feelings and take action.
Ben-Yosef said that antisemitic messages on social media make people who hold those sentiments feel they are not alone, and at a certain point they feel that they don’t want to just share an antisemitic post or “like” it, but rather “take it to the next stage.”
“You can see in the last few events that have happened in the US that the person [who committed an antisemitic crime] published something, or read something, and then decided to something,” he said. “What we are doing is trying to find [these posts] at the earliest stages, find them online on the various platforms, and remove the incitement before it goes viral and reaches out to a wide audience.”
The most dangerous aspect of the current spike in antisemitism, he said, is not necessarily one particular shooting or stabbing incident, as bad as they are, “but that on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, you can see the incitement online does not stop for a second.”
Ben-Yosef stressed this is not coming from one side of the political map, but rather from all over – from the radical Right, the radical Left and the Islamists.
What ACT-IL, a joint venture of IDC Herzliya and the Israeli American Council, tries to do is get the various social media platforms to take down the offensive material. Each platform – such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – have options for users to flag hateful messages and report them to the platform’s administrators, who then decide whether to remove them or not.
There is a greater likelihood for a platform to take down a message if it is flagged by thousands of people rather than if just a few individuals do so. What ACT-IL has done is created – through an app – a community of people, currently some 22,000, who will act in reporting offensive posts to the administrators.
The organization has volunteers who monitor the various platforms around the clock, and alert the community to offensive posts so that they can then call them out.
For example, earlier this week, one of the monitors found a post on Facebook of a dog urinating on an Israeli flag, sandwiched between the phrase “I hate ‘Israil’ (sic)” and “I hate Yehudy’ (sic).” One of the monitors sent it out to the community, and 18,000 people then turned to Facebook, which then removed the post.”
The ease or difficulty in taking down posts depends on the platform, Ben-Yosef said, with Instagram being the most likely to remove offensive material, then Facebook, and Twitter being the most difficult to influence to take action.
In general, he said, social media platforms do not do enough to remove incitement. “I’m not talking about political views,” he said. “I’m talking about videos calling to kill Jews, or about Instagram posts explaining where to put a knife to kill more effectively.”