Social Media Vigilantes: How We Can Combat Hate Online

By: Avigail Winokur  |  August 31, 2020

By Avigail Winokur, Arts and Culture Editor

A common refrain heard during the last six months is that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we knew it. Many of us went from being active and involved individuals to suddenly having a lot more time on our hands. The internet became a refuge amongst the chaos of our reality. The internet remained unchanged, and if anything, was a salvation of sorts. It provided a means of connection, communication, and comfort for those who had been severed from those they held closest. It is our main source of information, for better or for worse, and internet consumption has drastically risen since the beginning of the pandemic. 

One of the internet’s main benefits, its ability to gather like-minded people, is also one of its main detriments. A quick internet search can become a swan dive into a cesspool of hate, extremism, and antisemitism that festers in all corners of the internet. Social media, a large subset of the internet’s power of connectivity, is the main source of such hate. Apps such as TikTok and Instagram are filled with blatantly antisemitic and antizionistic rhetoric, many of which perpetuate longstanding anti-semitic conspiracy theories about Jews running the world. There are even modern blood libels blaming the Jews for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as there were during the Black Death.

Anyone who spends even a bit of time on social media is aware of the lack of regulation and the danger in allowing hate speech to spread online. People with massive audiences can post anything they want, without consequence. While we are lucky to live in a country that champions free speech, the double standard that applies to different forms of hate speech is appalling. Rightfully, people who speak out against many marginalized groups are condemned. While I’m not a proponent of the toxic and counterproductive “cancel culture,” it’s hard to deny the impulse for the masses to eliminate the voice of something they deem harmful. However, it’s rather disturbing that that impulse seems to end when it comes to antisemitism. 

 Several recent high profile incidents come to mind when thinking of antisemitism in the media. Nick Cannon, a famous actor, TV show host, and musician said on his Wild ‘N Out podcast recently that “we give so much power to the ‘theys,’ and ‘theys’ turn into Illuminati, the Zionists, the Rothschilds.” Cannon also claimed that “the Semitic people are the Black people” and that “you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people. When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright.” He then went on to praise Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan: “Every time I’ve heard him speak, it’s positive, it’s powerful, it’s uplifting … for whatever reason, he’s been demonized.” Basketball player DeSean Jackson posting an antisemitic message that he misattributed to Hitler, and praised Louis Farrakhan. His post featured a quote that said white Jews “will blackmail America. [They] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”

On a smaller scale, hate speech and antisemitism permeates every corner of the internet, not just on the pages of major influencers. TikTok and Instagram are chock full of passionate, misinformed teens and young adults claiming to champion the rights of Palestinian people, while in the same breath calling for the elimination of the Jews in Israel. These people fail to see peace as a compromise between two parties, as opposed to the domination of one ideal and group over another: that is war. Between the lack of education, the lack of fact-checking, and the impressionable minds of younger teenagers, a new generation is being indoctrinated with the idea that Jews are imperialist aggressors. 

With all of this, it’s easy to become frustrated, disillusioned, and feel helpless. Here, we can look to people and organizations like Hen Mazzig (@henmazzig), Rudy Rochman (@rudy_israel), Eve Barlow (@evebarlow), and @jewishoncampus/@zionistoncampus. These are individuals and groups who understand that to combat the extremism that is so prominent online, you have to spread truth and awareness to effectively change the narrative. There are also those of us who are present in the smaller arenas, commenting on problematic TikToks and Instagram posts, sharing things to our smaller followings, and making sure that our voices are heard and amplified to overcome those who try to silence them. If history has shown anything, it’s how detrimental silence is in the face of adversity. 

We have a responsibility to strengthen our online presence, both collectively and individually. To see change, we have to make a change. It’s not enough to just be concerned about the rise in antisemitism, extremism, and fear of the other — we have to show our concern. From both the right and the left, Jews are coming under fire. No matter your alignment on the political spectrum, I think we can all agree on at least one thing: Jews have just as much as a right to exist as any other group.