Anti-Semitism and the Internet

Anti-Semitism and the Internet

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

When a conference is held to discuss anti-Semitism it is a forgone conclusion that they will conclude that there continues to be a problem of anti-Semitism; the question is what to do about it. While many of the substantive conclusions of the 5th Global Forum on anti-Semitism being held in Jerusalem are already clear, there are also some issues which are demanding attention not the least of which is anti-Semitism and the Internet.

There is no doubt that hate speech exists and there is a heightened—and unfortunately effective–use of the internet specifically to fan the ugly flames of anti-Semitism. For many non-Americans, especially Europeans from democracies, the first amendment constraints which govern free speech in the U.S. are beyond their comprehension or appreciation. Americans live in a world where the Constitution and case law set very strict restrictions on how, when, and even if speech can be limited. Solutions suggested by Europeans to criminalize hate speech just do not fly. As such, for them there is very little appreciation of the dilemma in which Americans find themselves in facing the growing use of the internet to spread anti-Semitism.  

It is in this context that representatives of Google and Facebook were confronted with the issue of anti-Semitism at this conference. While the issue really is becoming more serious, there are some possibilities or options available to ameliorate the situation and reduce anti-Semitic misuse on the internet. If ways could be found to reduce and minimize abuse of the internet for child pornography so too could a way be found to confronted. It was also admitted that there was no uniform training program for those who are supervising or monitoring misuse of the internet or exploiting hate speech. (It should be noted that neither operation sent very senior corporate officials to engage with this attendees as they were seeking to assess the problem and recommend directions to manage better its misuse on various internet platforms.)

It is obvious that gay bashing, racism, and sexism, for example, are immediately condemned and evoke a major public outrage. While such speech may not be totally eliminated, it is rapidly and widely confronted when it appears. Similarly, accusations of a site being anti-Semitic need to be quickly and effectively confronted and addressed. There is no room for a more lenient and tolerable position—a double standard—when anti-Semitic baiting, etc., appears.  Internet providers must be convinced so that their platform managers more seriously monitor their product. Ultimately, it will take an effort in the marketplace to control anti-Semitic growth on the Internet.

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