At a virtual World Jewish Congress event titled “Antisemitism on Social Media: Challenges for Academics and Policy-makers,” academics, representatives from social media companies, the United Nations, UNESCO and the European Commission came together to explore the complex phenomenon.
The event coincided with the recently published book Antisemitism on Social Media (Routledge, 2022), edited by Monika Hübscher, a doctoral candidate at the University of Haifa, Israel, and research associate at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and Sabine von Mering, professor of German and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and director of the Center for German and European Studies, at Brandeis University.
Both of them spoke at the online forum, which addressed possible solutions to this threat.
In recent years, social media has seen an unnerving growth in online activity inciting violence and spreading xenophobic rhetoric, specifically against Jews and other religious minorities, various speakers said, adding that the pandemic has also amplified conspiracy myths, and Holocaust denial and distortion.
Yfat Barak-Cheney, director of WJC International Affairs and deputy director of its Jewish Diplomatic Corps, who presented opening remarks, said the recent attack in Buffalo served as a stark reminder that while internet platforms and social media are used to spread hate and antisemitism widely, this hate “also lives offline with real consequences for people.”
Barak-Cheney, along with Leon Saltiel, WJC’s representative to the UN in Geneva and UNESCO, and coordinator on Countering Antisemitism, wrote the chapter in the book titled “To Report or Not to Report: Antisemitism on Social Media and the Role of Civil Society.”
Karel Fracapane, UNESCO program specialist, said, “Beyond the immediate problem of dealing with antisemitism on social media, UNESCO advocates for a long-term educational response, which is in our view the most important investment when it comes to building the resilience of users against online hate speech.”
Jordana Cutler, public policy director for Israel and the Jewish Diaspora at Meta, added, “In addition to the work that we do internally, we will always rely on partners in academia and civil society. That’s why, for example, the chapter [in the book] which focuses specifically on the role of civil society is very important – because sometimes in the academic space people aren’t sure of the practical implications of that work. That chapter specifically will also help to touch on some of the work that the World Jewish Congress and others have done to really help move the needle with social media companies on this issue.”
Wester Meijdam, policy officer in the office of the European Commission Coordinator on combatting Antisemitism, said that online antisemitism is a very specific form of hatred, notable by the “amount of toxic language, directed at such a small community; the complexity, based on the conspiracy myths it derives from; as well as how widespread antisemitism is, stemming from all sides of the political spectrum.”
Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, echoed the sentiments of other participants: “Advances in global communications have meant that we are more connected digitally than ever before, but also more divided, as hate speech against Jews spreads with increasing speed, frequency and geographic reach. While antisemitic hate speech is part of a wider global pattern, we must also never lose sight of the specificity of antisemitism if we are to be successful in combating, indeed preventing, the escalation of hatred against Jews.”
The book comes more than a year after UNESCO, Facebook and the World Jewish Congress expanded AboutHolocaust.org to 12 languages, providing essential information about the Holocaust to people around the world. In January, the World Jewish Congress and UNESCO further announced a partnership with TikTok to offer comprehensive Holocaust education to users searching for Holocaust-related information.