Social media is responsible for spreading hate speech.
Sabine von Mering and Monika Hubscher co-edited a new book, “Antisemitism on Social Media.” It comes after a year in which the Anti-Defamation League received the highest number of reports of antisemitic incidents in its history. It also comes at a time when, they say, social media sites aren’t policing hate speech enough.
“The problem is that the technology rewards negativity,” von Mering said. “If you think about how much material gets posted all the time, in many languages, I mean, it’s ridiculous. Kids are often users of TikTok, right? And they may not even be aware that something is antisemitic. They may find something funny, and they share it. And it gets again through the algorithms, that’s shown to millions.”
In a recent study, researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate reported hundreds of posts across the major social platforms that they said contained “anti-Jewish hatred.” Five of every six weren’t taken down.
It's not just anti-Jewish speech that's being promoted. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found each platform had committed publicly to protecting LGBTQ+ users. The platforms also failed at moderating their content.
Rachel Carroll Rivas, who works for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says it’s startingly easy for someone to engage with hate speech and then be inundated with it.
“It really starts a flow in which that content is just what they see more and more each day,” Rivas said. “It allows for sort of an echo chamber and people not to be checked by their peers, by their family members, in what they are seeing, what they’re consuming, and then, of course, what they’re putting back out into the world.”
By the numbers, it looks daunting. One study measured a 28% increase in hate speech between 2019 and 2021, including a 22% increase in discussions about violent threats. A second study found more than a third of American adults have experienced severe harassment online. A third study found that a rise in hate tweets can even be caused by extreme temperatures.
It’s easy to not want to fight against such a rising tide. But that’s where those who study it disagree.
“Think about it: this was the first time that someone put a book together on this. We urgently need more research,” von Mering said. “It’s something that requires a lot more attention from everyone.”
Rivas adds, “Each one of us has a part, and there can absolutely be a role for us to make a shift.”