Leaders warn social media ‘a ticking time bomb’ for antisemitism
U.S. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, who is special envoy to combat antisemitism, on Tuesday called the rise of anti-Jewish tropes on the internet and social media “a ticking time bomb,” during a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
Lipstadt’s comments come just a day after President Biden’s announcement that his administration would establish a task force to coordinate government efforts to address antisemitism and other forms of religiously motivated bigotry.
Her comments also come just a few weeks after rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, delivered an antisemitic rant on Infowars in which he stated that he liked Adolf Hitler.
Witness Rabbi Andrew Baker, much like Lipstadt, emphasized the dangers of how easily antisemitism can spread online during the hearing.
“Today antisemitism moves effortlessly around the world via the internet and social media. It infects groups and individuals who then carry out attacks on Jewish targets,” said Baker.
Though Lipstadt said that it was important to recognize the dangers social media presents in making antisemitic content more easily accessible, she was cautious not to blame social media for the recent rise in antisemitism in the U.S.
“I’m not sure we have an internet or social media problem, we have an antisemitism problem,” said Lipstadt. “I like to talk about or compare social media to a knife, a knife in the hands of a murderous person can take a life, a knife in the hands of a surgeon can save a life.”
Lipstadt also made clear during the hearing that she wasn’t calling for more censorship or content moderation, but for more public condemnation of hate speech.
“The United States will always uphold free protections of speech in our Constitution, but having said that, we also have to condemn hate speech,” said Lipstadt. “We cannot legislate it out of existence, but we can certainly condemn it. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean we have to sit idly by.”
Baker also said that content moderation wouldn’t be able to solve the problem of antisemitism spreading online.
“Content monitors are no match for algorithms designed to push grievance as the basic business model,” said Baker. “We must find new ways to bring this under control.”
“We know that it spreads immediately, exhaustively, through social media, and that is a real fight we’re all up against.”
Lipstadt said that one of the best ways to fight against the rise of antisemitism online and in general was for high-profile individuals to decry antisemitism whenever and wherever they see it.
“Leaders have to speak out,” said Lipstadt. “Political leaders, religious leaders, celebrities, opinion makers, they have to speak out and say this is wrong.”
“So, I think the public profile people speaking out and saying this is unacceptable, is extremely important.”
Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reiterated this point and said that he was proud that so many of his colleagues denounced former President Trump’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.
“Leaders must put a spotlight on any type of antisemitic activities and be willing to condemn it. We saw just the opposite at Mar-a-Lago when the former president had dinner with Kanye West, a known antisemite, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist,” said Cardin.
“I am pleased that so many of my Republican and Democratic colleagues spoke out against that dinner by the former president,” he said.
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