Antisemitism has existed for millennia, but its appearance on the internet is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is on the rise.
“We have seen, in the last few years, a real surge of antisemitism online,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
While the prevalence of online antisemitism has seen its peaks and valleys, the overall level has been steadily rising since the 2016 election, Libit said.
Meredith Weisel, the Anti-Defamation League’s senior associate regional director covering Baltimore and Washington, D.C., has also seen increasing online antisemitism.
“Antisemitic content continues to be a serious problem across social media and major platforms are failing to adequately protect targets,” Weisel said in an email. “These platforms are not managing antisemitic content effectively and too often fail to respond when hateful content is flagged.
“The digital spaces have become unwelcoming and unsafe for many Jewish people with a survey showing that 36 percent of Jewish respondents said they experienced some form of online harassment,” Weisel continued.
Online antisemitism commonly comes in the form of social media posts on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, Libit said.
Zoombombing, the act of an uninvited person interrupting a Zoom call, has also been a problem. Some synagogues, JCCs and other organizations have reported incidents where uninvited people interrupt their online program with antisemitic and pornographic messages and images. In 2020, the ADL tracked 196 incidents of antisemitic videoconferencing attacks.
Libit said the emergence of new social media platforms has been an important factor in the rise of online antisemitism.
Additionally, Libit viewed episodes of antisemitism in the world at large as connected to instances of antisemitism online.
During the pandemic, anti- semitic conspiracy theories have been shared online, and there were spikes in online antisemitism during the Gaza conflict in the spring. Antisemitic acts of violence have often also been accompanied by increases in online antisemitism, Libit said.
Before the internet, it could be harder for individuals with antisemitic views to find and connect with each other, Libit noted.
“It was sometimes harder for people who had these kind of antisemitic views and hate to connect with each other, because it was hard to figure out who shared your views and how to get together to plan or plot,” Libit said. “But unfortunately, the internet, and the anonymity of the internet and the broad nature of it, is a vehicle for people who share these kind of awful views to more easily find each other and come together.”
To those who experience or witness instances of online antisemitism that mention some kind of specific or potential criminal threat, such as a threat of physical violence or a bomb threat, Libit encourages reporting it immediately to local law enforcement.
For other instances of online antisemitism that do not quite rise to that level, Libit recommends contacting the ADL’s online investigation unit.
These incidents can also be reported to the online platform that they occur on, Libit said.
“Whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter, they all have varying commitments related to antisemitic hate speech,” Libit said. “So if you see something and report it, they are supposed to review it and make decisions about taking it down and potentially punishing whoever created that content.”
Libit does not recommend directly engaging or communicating with the person who posts an antisemitic piece of content, as this often just serves to give that person attention while creating risks for yourself.
Similarly to Libit, Weisel recommends contacting law enforcement in the event an antisemitic online statement rises to a direct threat, and contacting the ADL as well.
But on the issue of engaging with those who make antisemitic statements online, Weisel seemed more open to the idea.
“There are benefits to engaging publicly in online in a conversation, especially if you think others can learn from it,” Weisel said. “Keep in mind that sometimes people post content without any understanding of the greater context.
“However, particularly when it’s someone you know, it might be best to engage in a private setting because that person could become defensive online,” Weisel continued. “Taking a conversation offline is sometimes more beneficial.”