As reported by Joseph Menn, writing for the Washington Post, the contours of this “new wave of antisemitism has reached millions of people in just days, brought new followers, and helped galvanize a broader coalition of fringe figures.”
Current and former federal officials are warning that a surge in hate speech and disinformation about Jews on Twitter is uniting and popularizing some of the same extremists who have helped push people to engage in violent protests including the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress.
The officials are predicting that Twitter will contribute to more violence in the months ahead, citing the proliferation of extreme content, including support for genocidal Nazis by celebrities with wide followings and the reemergence of QAnon proselytizers and white nationalists.
While this phenomenon affects all communities routinely marginalized and attacked—gays, transgender people, Black folks, and religious minorities are all at tremendous risk—the resurgence of virulent antisemitism is quickly proving to be in a class all by itself. Inspired and emboldened by the carte blanche afforded them by Musk’s deliberate inaction, hate groups have begun doing what hate groups always do: attempt to motivate others to commit acts of violence by “normalizing” their hatred. That hatred is directed to all groups these people decide to threaten, but it has a special affinity for targeting Jews.
Since Twitter’s rapid descent into a racist hellscape this past month, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a bulletin that, without mentioning the social media giant by name, elaborates on the “heightened threat” posed by online speech that exhorts others to violence, noting “that online and offline conduct often reinforce each other in a cycle of escalation.”
With antisemitism, the most prominent feature of that escalation is desensitization, specifically attempts to foster an increased acceptance that it is “okay” to hate Jews. Menn quotes former assistant DHS secretary Juliette Kayyem on this point:
“The idea that there is a difference between online chatter and real-word harm is disabused by a decade of research,” said Juliette Kayyem, a security business founder and former assistant DHS secretary. Open expression on Twitter “re-socializes the hate and rids society of the shaming that ought to occur regarding antisemitism,” she said.
The rise in online antisemitic and other hate speech has been ongoing since Donald Trump incited an attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021, but according to Joel Finklestein of the Network Contagion Institute, the most dramatic and probably far-reaching catalyst occurred last week with Kanye West’s spirited defense of Adolf Hitler and other statements denigrating Jews. Although these actions resulted in West’s temporary removal from Twitter, millions of otherwise dormant antisemites immediately slid out from under their rocks in celebration. As Menn observes, it was not only West’s diatribe but the fact that West allowed white supremacist Nick Fuentes and (formerly banned) Alex Jones to send tweets from his account that “caught the world’s attention.”
“Kanye is using antisemitism to popularize a list of actors who have been censored for a long time,” Finkelstein said. “Trolls are climbing over the walls to start new accounts. This is a bonanza.”
Kayyem, quoted in Menn’s article, notes that other social media platforms engage in social moderation for this very reason: Failure to moderate leads directly to violence. She also observes that the profit model of all social media relies on engagement and thus inherently contributes to the problem of resultant violence.
But perhaps most revealing is a sentiment explained at the end of Menn’s article. It is from Andrew Anglin, editor of the white supremacist, Neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer. Anglin was previously banned (for ten years) from Twitter but has now been reinstated under Musk’s “amnesty.” As Menn explains (quoting from Anglin's prior writings), from Anglin's perspective, “blaming Jews” is the best way to recruit more Neo-Nazis to his cause. Noting that people will become “confused” and “disheartened” if they perceive “multiple enemies,” Anglin approvingly cites Hitler’s strategy: "[A]ll enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews.”
This deliberate mobilization of hate by Elon Musk is only a few weeks along. It’s not difficult to predict what the consequences will be in a year. But one thing, at least, seems fairly clear: Europe is not going to put up with Musk’s antics. The EU has told Musk Twitter will either be regulated there or shut down. This country should do the same.
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