By Sarah Ann Haves
Research findings reported by the World Jewish Congress has revealed that in 2016, more than 382,000 anti-Semitic posts were uploaded to social media. It constitutes an average of 43.6 posts per hour, or one post every 83 seconds. And, 63% of the anti-Semitic content on-line can be found on Twitter, followed by various blogs, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others.
This increase is alarming American Jewish leaders, giving them a better understanding of where the real fight is taking place now, as they try to end hate attacks against the Jewish People in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Recently, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Assistant Dean of the Los Angeles Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke to journalists in Jerusalem. He is an expert on social media and digital terrorism, and meets regularly with political and religious leaders across the globe.
|Jews continue to be
the number one target
of religious hate crimes…
Cooper says the problem of anti-Semitism in America has been fairly constant, and has been around for a long time. Jews continue to be the number one target of religious based hate crimes in the United States, despite the fact that they constitute only 2% of the population.
“I would point to one major factor which I do not think has gotten enough exposure and review in the U.S., and that is social media. Social media is a complete game changer.”
For 22 years now, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has promoted a project that focuses on the problem of digital terrorism and hate. According to Cooper, the Center focuses daily on “how the evil doers, the terrorists, the hate groups are leveraging Internet technologies; who’s doing it, and what their approach is.”
The Center then tries to pressure companies, in Silicon Valley and in other areas where major social media companies are located, hoping to stop the posting of Jewish hatred on these networks.
Jewish journalists have become a specific target for hate speech. They get vicious anti-Semitic threats delivered, sometimes, right into their E-mail Inboxes. When a writer or reporter does not fall in line with the world view of particular hate groups, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, they fall victim to hate aggression. This was the case during the campaign leading up to Donald Trump becoming U.S. president.
“It became extremely personal, and the swiftness by which these kinds of attacks were launched were only made possible by virtue of the Internet, and especially social media.”
Cooper explains that this is part of the reality today in the U.S. and worldwide. Collectively, Jewish communities try to put an end to anti-Semitism becoming a political left-wing or right-wing issue, though this approach is not working right now. But, the Wiesenthal Center keeps fighting for religious freedom and equality for all persecuted groups.
“It’s a responsibility across the board which should not become part of the cultural wars, or political disputes, or debates.”
Though Cooper does not think the statistics on hate crimes are going to increase dramatically, he does think the perception of the environment of hate is very much there, “because the evil doers, the bad guys, repositioned themselves on-line after quite a few years. The rest of us are only waking up to the issue.”
While Jewish communities are losing the battle in the media and, sometimes, on a political level, they are able to get adequate security protection for their major institutions against terrorist threats, including their Jewish Day Schools and synagogues. Cooper acknowledges that the issue of perimeter security has been around for decades, but where it becomes a complex issue is when communities end up having to highlight their victimization.
“We are not interested in advertising that we are the number one target of anti-Semitism. But, with that kind of quiet approach, comes a price.”
That price, according to Cooper, is that others in America have no idea what Jews face on a daily basis unless it is broadcast nationally.
U.S. Homeland Security has been meeting with various Jewish organizations to help them secure their community centers. American law enforcement officers are helping.
The problem is that U.S. citizens are extremely protective of their First Amendment constitutional rights. Unlike Europe, or Canada, where people can go to jail for hate speech, there are no such laws in America. Perpetuators of anti-Semitic speech are free to act out in the United States.
“American tradition is to allow maximum speech and to defeat the falsehoods in the marketplace of ideas, which in the pre-Internet world was a lot simpler.”
Today, Americans can be attacked, verbally, with anti-Semitic threats on the Internet, and the perpetuators are not going to be accountable like they are in Europe and Canada. But, young Americans instinctively want to allow the hate speech so they can offer a strong response in debating the issue.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center continues to lobby hard when it comes to social media companies. Facebook has been the most responsive, but they still allow Holocaust denial to remain on their pages.
Cooper thinks there is little that can be done on a judicial level in America. It is the companies, themselves, that have to be willing to curtail such negative speech. “You cannot legislate hate out of existence.”
He, like others, have come to realize that legislative answers to these problems in America do not exist and, therefore, cannot be an effective solution, especially in the near future, to stopping hate content from being displayed on social media.
Meanwhile, anti-Semites have figured out how to use the social media system to disseminate their hate speech. Some of the extremists, Cooper says, have planted their flag firmly on those First Amendment rights. So, the Wiesenthal Center continues to meet with the American companies that are allowing the incitement to remain on their sites.
One of the methods Cooper uses to speak to social media executives is an annual Report Card. When Twitter staffers heard that they were being given a failing grade, they noticed, and began to change some of their tactics. Cooper told them, “You need to help degrade the marketing capabilities of these groups.”
|Twitter has been slow
on removing terrorism
and hate hashtags.
While Twitter has moved against ISIS terrorism, they have been very slow on removing terrorism and hate hashtags. So, Cooper continues to go to Twitter and other social media companies and review their strategies for removing hate content from their sites.
“The most important ally that we need to demand take action is Silicon Valley. They set their own rules… We need to find the people who control Silicon Valley to do more to degrade their capabilities.”
As leaders in the social media industry begin to get older and have children, they are realizing the disadvantages of allowing hate speech on their networks, which can affect their own children. Cooper thinks that these digital operators could be doing more to get rid of the hate content, making it increasingly difficult to use the Internet for bad behavior.
“We are finding more and more that there are people who are saying, ‘you know, we are not in business to make it easy for the bad guys.’ ”
Cooper adds; “If the collective genius of Silicon Valley spent a little bit more time about how to make it more difficult for these kind of dangerous people to use their services, we would all be a lot safer.”
As Anti-Semitism continues to increase, Jewish community leaders are looking for ways to build closer bonds between themselves. While Cooper sees that hate crimes are perpetuated against all communities, not just Jewish ones, his main focus is to seek more of a commitment on the part of Jewish community members to do something about it.
It is inside the Jewish communities of America that a dialogue has begun, to redefine and reinvigorate a collective commitment to fight against the increase of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and worldwide. For activists like Cooper, it is also important to find the perpetuators of hate, to expose their actions, and to constrain their incitement when possible. Otherwise, there will be copycats that create a greater hate environment, detrimental to American Jews and to American society as a whole.
“Show me the wonders of Your great love, You who save by Your right hand, those who take refuge in You from their foes. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 17:7-8 (NIV)
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.