However, contemporary anti-Semitism is not only directed against Israelis and does not always take the form of traditional slogans or hate speech. Contemporary anti-Semitism manifests itself in various forms such as GIFs, memes, vlogs, comments and reactions such as likes and dislikes on the platforms.
scholar Sophie Schmalenberger found that anti-Semitism is expressed not only in rude, hurtful language and images on social media, but also in coded forms that can easily go unnoticed. For example on Facebook, the radical right-wing German party Alternative für Deutschland or AfD, omit the mention of the holocaust in reports of the Second World War. It also uses anti-Semitic language and rhetoric that presents anti-Semitism as acceptable.
Anti-Semitism can take subtle forms, such as in emojis. The emoji combination of a Star of David, a Jewish symbol and a rat resembles the Nazi propaganda that compares Jews to vermin. In Nazi Germany, the constant repetition and normalization of such images led to the dehumanization of Jews and ultimately the acceptance of genocide.
Other forms of anti-Semitism on social media include: antisemitic troll attacks: Users organize to disrupt online events by flooding them with messages denying or spreading the Holocaust conspiracy myths like QAnon does.
scholars Gabi Weimann and Natalie Masric TikTok have studied. They found that children and young adults are especially at risk of being exposed, often unconsciously, to anti-Semitism in the very popular and fast growing platform, which already has more than 1 billion users worldwide. Some of the content posted combines fragments of footage from Nazi Germany with new text that belittles or ridicules the victims of the Holocaust.
Continued exposure to anti-Semitic content at a young age, scientists say, can lead to both normalization of content and radicalization of the Tik-Tok viewer.
Anti-Semitism is fueled by algorithms programmed to register engagement. This ensures that the more engagement a post gets, the more users see it. Engagement includes all comments such as likes and dislikes, shares and comments, including counter-comments. The problem is that comments on posts also trigger rewarding dopamine hits in users. Since excessive content creates the most engagement, users feel more encouraged to post hateful content.
However, even social media users who make critical comments about hateful content fail to realize that the way algorithms work ultimately contributes to its spread.
Research on video recommendations on YouTube also shows how algorithms gradually lead users to more radical content. Algorithmic anti-Semitism is therefore a form of what criminologist Matthew Williams mentions in his book “algorithmic hatred”The science of hate.”
What can be done about it?
To combat anti-Semitism on social media, strategies must be evidence-based. But so far, neither social media companies nor researchers have devoted sufficient time and resources to this issue.
The study of social media anti-Semitism presents researchers with unique challenges: They need access to the data and funding to help develop effective counter strategies. Until now, scientists have depended on the cooperation of the social media companies to access the data, which is usually unregulated.
Social media companies have implemented guidelines on: reporting antisemitism on social media, and civil society organizations have demanded action against algorithmic anti-Semitism. However, the measures taken so far are woefully inadequate, if not dangerous. Contradiction, which is often promoted as a possible strategy, for example, tends to amplify hateful content.
To meaningfully tackle anti-Semitic hate speech, social media companies would need to change the algorithms that collect and manage user data for ad companies, which make up a large part of their revenue.
There is a worldwide, borderless spread of anti-Semitic messages on social media on an unprecedented scale. We think it will take the collective efforts of social media companies, researchers and civil society to combat this problem.
Sabine von Mering is director of the Center for German and European Studies at Brandeis University. Monika Hübscher is a research associate and Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Duisburg-Essen.