It’s no news that antisemitic hate incidents are on the rise—a 34% increase in the U.S. in 2021 over 2020, with similar spikes in Europe. Scholars have detected a new spawning ground for hatred of Jews: social media. No hate speech is needed—just emojis depicting a Star of David with a rat. Just “liking” Holocaust denial and not liking complimentary descriptions of Jews. Just engaging in critical conversations about Zionism. A share here, a counter-comment there.
Algorithms love engagement and they reward it with more engagement. The result is a proliferation of conversations—innocent and not so innocent—that make such dialogues, GIFs, emojis, memes, vlogs, reactions on dislike or dismay or distaste of Jews and of all things Jewish normal.
Young people on TikTok become accustomed to critical thoughts, diatribes and scapegoating of Jews and the shock value is replaced by “well, that’s-the-way-things-are.” Footage of Nazi Germany accompanied by messages making fun of Holocaust victims are just a click away for the over one billion users, many of whom are young and unaware of the subtle brainwashing.
See something blatantly or subtly antisemitic on Facebook or TikTok or any social media platform? Are you as a Jew—or as any human being—outraged? How dare they! Makes your blood boil, right? So you’re moved to write a blistering comment in response—that’ll show them! Well, you’ve just engaged, the algorithm is pleased and spits out more hateful content in response. You, a decent upright person, have just contributed to the spread of hatred in the world.
How did this start? Why did it start?
Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth at Facebook, has regrets. Four years ago, when asked by an interviewer if he’d done any soul-searching as to the havoc the algorithms he helped develop have wrought, he commented: “I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses, we kind of knew something bad could happen.”
And it did.
Today, faced with the consequences of the normalization of antisemitism on social media, and with the attendant increased radicalization that comes with increased engagement, the hatred now transcends borders and defies strategies. Researchers who want to improve things are stymied by lack of time, lack of cooperation from social media platforms and lack of revenue.
Algorithms were put there to increase engagement and engagement translates into money. Social networks brought in $36.14 billion in advertising revenue in 2019, $43.53 billion in 2020 and $50.89 billion in 2021. Those algorithms aren’t going away without a fight.
Those algorithms need to change. The ways the algorithms gather data need to change. The ways the algorithms curate and handle data need to change. Only a concerted effort by society, researchers and the social media platforms themselves can put us back on the path to decent civilized discourse. Will it happen? Lives are at stake.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.