The following article is a transcription of the presentation that Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute gave on November 18th, 2020 a the conference “Anti-Semisism and Online Hate. Conspiracy in the internet age“ (Antisemitismo e Odio Online. Il complottismo al tempo di internet) organized by Unar, the national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and IHRA delegates in Italy.
I want to start by discussing the original concept of “Antisemitism 2.0”. This started in 2008 when I first raised it and it was in a paper released at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, it was the first paper [Online Antisemitism 2.0. “Social Antisemitism” on the “Social Web”] to discuss the way the social medial normalized antisemitism online also created a risk that it will then spread offline into real world society. The threat of Antisemitism 2.0 was the creation of an online culture that made antisemitism socially acceptable, it changed cultural acceptability, it changed our society, it lowered our resistance to antisemitism it lowered our resistance to hate speech, it allowed hate networks to draw people in and allows them to grow. Here is the definition from that 2008 paper, it said: “Antisemitism 2.0 is the use of online social networking and content collaboration to share demonization, conspiracy theories, holocaust denial, classic antisemitic motifs with a view to creating social acceptability for such content”. Either Jews in general or the Jewish State might be targeted by Antisemitism 2.0 and often the distinction between Israel and Jews is lost. Antisemitism specifically related to Israel is commonly perpetrated by making comparisons between Israel and popular paradigms of evil the two classic cases being Nazi Germany and Apartheids of Africa. One of the first big talks of Antisemitism 2.0 was in 2010 to the subcommittee of the Italian Parliament. It was a wonderful experience to be able to put this major problem in front of the Parliament, in front of people who could do something about it and there was an excellent report and changes to the legislation; Italy did very well there. What was said to the Italian Parliament was that the danger was not that people might read the content and be inspired to become antisemitic; the danger was that they would accept it as a valid viewpoint, that they would accept it as a fact of life, that they would accept antisemitism as something that you could agree with or not agree with but either opinion is ok; this is the danger, this is where normalization comes from.
There is also a link to conspiracy theories. Back in the 2008 paper it says that the agenda of Antisemitism 2.0 is not simply about promoting ideas, it is about discussing them and conferring on them legitimacy as one possible truth, one truth among many narratives that may exist. It’s about blurring the boundaries in discourse. That is what hate conspiracy does and that is what Antisemitism 2.0 has always done in social media. I want to speak a minute about how this blood libel, this fake news this conspiracy theory of hate is not new. Before the internet, before we even had widespread literacy, blood libel was spread through art, through architecture, it was spread on the walls of the churches. This form of antisemitism still occurs today as you know in March this year, we had another painting in Italy of blood libel. The problem is not that it just exists, the problem that once it exists it goes on to the internet and it spreads in the bottom of the screen you can see how this one image then gets spreads to many different sites; some of these are fringe sites that host significant amounts of antisemitism.
In 2016 we saw a big change to Antisemitism 2.0. This came as a result of the US presidential race the rise of the Altright with antisemitism at their core. They sought to normalize the hate in society, and they did normalize the hate in society. No longer was it a threat the Antisemitism 2.0 might make hate normal, not it was a reality. And this was their idea of red pilling the public opening their ideas to narratives that demonize Jews, to conspiracy theories, to holocaust denial, to spreading the antisemitic ideas that were discussed back in 2008. Part of that culture, were the Altright came from, was on in/pol/ on 4chan and later 8chan to different related platforms. That platform deliberately tried to mainstream antisemitism and holocaust denial. It tied to promote a culture of white nationalism; it promoted a culture with antisemitism at its core. The people in that platform didn’t do it on their own. We later learned through research, after the Christchurch attack how stormfront and neo-Nazi forum infiltrated this particular forum and sought deliberately to change their culture, they sought to make them neo-Nazi and they were successful.
This ideology is what we then saw reflected in four terrorist attacks in 2019. This is a picture of the message that was posted on HN about the attack in the Poway Synagogue in the United States. I am not focusing on the message from the attacker, their efforts to live stream their attack. I want to focus on this little message with the green anonymous comment down below with the arrow pointing to it. It says: “based. Get the high score” somebody in this forum says that: “I going to go out very shortly and kill people, you can watch me do it at this web address”. And the response that they get back is: “great, go for it, we are waiting to watch you”. This is really scary; this is a culture that is promoting violence and extremism. What is also scary is the manifesto of hate. Was put online in various places and it took 21 hours, 24 hours, 50 hours over until the manifesto was removed. I don’t know even mean copies, and there were copies, I am talking about the original. It took over 50 hours before that manifesto was removed and, in that time, it was seen by almost 76000 people that are in close networks that are trying to share and spread hate, shared networks which are fringed platforms where last year we saw four people radicalize into extremisms.
I also want to mention that it is not just social media. In Australia we found that one of our largest bookstores had 94 different editions of Mein Kompf for sale. Some of them were virtually free, some of them were original editions that cost a lot of money, some of them had descriptions that were targeted precisely for white supremacists and neo-Nazi. This is the official Nazi Bible; this is what some of them said. This material is what is used to radicalize these extremists.
I must say a year ago I was in Milan and I walked around near the Christmas market and I found a copy of Mein Kompf in the bookstore; this problem is around the world and we need to recognize the danger that it poses, we need to recognize that some of this literature is being marketed specifically to people that want to use it for radicalization.
This brings us to 2020, it brings us to Covid. Antisemitism 2.0 in the world of Covid is a bit different. The right-wing extremists have largely now been pushed off the mainstream platforms, they moved on to fringe platforms, they have moved on to encrypted platforms. They are now on platforms where they are only speaking to each other, they are living in an alternative reality, they have been producing conspiracy theories, propaganda designed to link Covid and Jews. Even amongst themselves this content has not been viral, it has not been well accepted largely because the focus is beyond China so the narrative to make Jews responsible hasn’t taken root. But there is a different narrative, there is a narrative that Jews are profiting from Covid, there is a narrative that they will be profiting from the vaccines, there is all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories that vaccines are going to microchip everyone that this is all part of controlling the population which goes back to the Jews that control the world, the banks, the media conspiracy theories. Those are out there and they are growing and they are going to continue growing through the period of recovery prom the pandemic.
Antisemitism 2.0 next year in 2021 is going to be on the rise and it’s going to be a problem not just online but in the community. All the antisemitism that has happened while people are being in lockdown, while people have been trying to distance themselves by being online, all of that is going to manifest itself in the coming year. The question is “how much critical mass have this people got on these fringe platforms?”. On the mainstream platforms QAnon has replaced the AltRight now it too is increasingly being pushed away from the mainstream platforms. The anti-Semites on the mainstream platforms are trying to work around the artificial intelligence around the moderators. They are trying to fly below the radar, their purpose is not to directly spread so much antisemitism, their purpose is to entice people from the mainstream into these fringe platforms, that’s the new challenge. Holocaust denial is a key part in that. I will comment on Twitter specifically, I have found entire libraries of Holocaust denial propaganda videos, reported them to Twitter and Twitter let the person who hosted them change their account so that only people who followed them could see the videos. That makes Twitter, a mainstream platform, just another fringe close network that people can add other people that are radicalized to and work behind the scenes where only the extremists see it. Those combatting antisemitism are increasingly being targeted both institutions and individually. They need more support from the government from the police. There is a need for more funding for both the work but also for the security of those doing the work. We need to take care that when we tell people to speak out with counter speech that those people can also become targets. We need to insure to teach people when it is safe to use counter speech and we need to recognize that that alone is not the solution, we need monitoring, we need regulation. We also need transparency reports and a transparency report produced by a company on itself is not transparent. The companies come with their own definitions even when civil society is involved if they insist that civil society works with the companies definition or loses the right to be recognized by the company, that reinforces the existing definitions; it prevents new forms of antisemitism or forms that were properly recognized from now being recognized. That is something that we also need to work on.