Fighting the scourge of online Jew hatred


As a widely recognized symbol of freedom and democratic government, the iconic century-old United States Capitol building in Washington, DC stands in stark contrast to the dark and repulsive aspects of our modern online reality. Earlier this month, the virulent bigotry that permeates social media was the subject of a special international hearing in the US Congress in which I had the honor of participating.

Toxic and hate-motivated content is increasingly infecting popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube. In this virtual space, as in the offline situation, Jews are among the most targeted by racists, with dangerous real-world consequences for Jewish communities around the world. In recent years, many violent attacks against Jews have begun online.

The summit of the Interparliamentary Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism Online, co-chaired by US Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Canadian MP Anthony Housefather, featured tough questioning of senior executives from major companies of social media.

During the session, current and former members of the national legislatures of the United States, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, the European Union and Israel, as well as special envoys from Canada , of the United States, Israel and the Organization of American States, took out Meta (Facebook), Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for their failure to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, rampant anti-Jewish hatred, including Holocaust denial, on their platforms.

Task force members cited social media companies’ chronically slow response times to remove hateful content, their lack of transparency, the insidious role of algorithms pushing anti-Semitic content, and unwillingness to tackle veiled anti-Semitism. by anti-Zionism. Unfortunately, leaders have mostly clouded their responses.

Without absolving these platforms of their central role in this problem, it is also important to note that it is not they who create the vile anti-Semitic content but rather its main distributors, who are part of an alarming rise in hatred of Jews in online and offline.

Given the gravity and complexity of this issue, it is difficult in this limited space to do full justice to the important work of the task force, of which I am proud to be a founding member.

Reflecting the gravity of the Washington hearing, Housefather set the stage well in his opening remarks at the start of the 3.5-hour session, which was streamed live online and can be viewed on YouTube:

“Hate and misinformation targeting Jewish communities online know no borders,” he said. “Despite the widespread proliferation of anti-Semitism online, social media platforms are unable or unwilling to keep up with the tactical evolution of bad actors. Right now, the platform’s efforts appear to be a mole swoop of ad hoc content removal followed by tactical evolution and circumvention. Moderation approaches have been wildly inconsistent, particularly in non-English speaking jurisdictions. Rather than simply being a matter of removing content, this challenge boils down to the platforms’ fundamental business models and the algorithmic systems that underpin their products.

While my initial intervention focused on Twitter and its lack of determination to block the anti-Semitic account of Canadian “anti-racism” consultant Laith Marouf, I addressed my closing remarks to all social media companies:

“In today’s world, the impact of social media platforms is unquestionably daunting. But with power and notoriety comes responsibility and accountability, which you, the leaders of these big corporations, have failed in your duty to do well.

“Inaction is complicity in the tragic consequences of unchecked online anti-Semitism. Despicable and unregulated racist content in the dark corners of your social media platforms is increasingly spreading on our streets, in our communities, on our campuses and schoolyards with real threats to our safety, freedom and ultimately undermines our very way of life.

“We see this corrosive and poisonous virus of Jew hatred increasingly infecting Canadian society, with Jews being the most targeted minority. This tsunami of hatred and incitement poses a fundamental risk to our future. I haven’t heard any real and meaningful engagement from any of you today beyond platitudes and window dressing. I implore you to do more and do it now. The safety and future of our Jewish community depends on it.

Michael Levitt, a Toronto-based freelance columnist for the Star, is the president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. @LevittMichael

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