The terrifying rise of online antisemitism

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You would think the benefit of hindsight would give people perspective. With everything we know about the holocaust, the sick Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, you would think antisemitism would be a thing of the past. A dark relic of humanity's collective history, remembered as something shameful and unspeakably harmful.

Instead, in the year 2017, antisemitism is unbelievable, inconceivably, on the rise. And a major factor in it's current ascent back into public sentiment and political thought is owed to the manipulative powers of online racists doing everything they can to warp and infect a new generation with their insidious viewpoint.

When Joseph Gobbles wanted to turn the German people against the Jews, he relied on the volksempfänger, a line of mass produced radios specifically designed to be as cheap as possible. He recognized the power of the relatively new mass communication medium and seized on it to promote the Nazi agenda. The idea was to make sure Hitler’s hate filled speeches could reach the homes of every German citizen. 

The propagandists of today have latched on to the same idea, but have no need to be as industrious as to produce a line of new devices. After all, the perfect mass communication propaganda tool has already been developed for them - social media. More than 70% of Canadians use social media on a daily basis, many checking in on their profiles multiple times a day, from wherever they happen to be, be it in line at the grocery store, slacking off at work, and everywhere in between. A constant communication path that makes the volksempfänger look positively antiquated. And the antisemites of today know it.

A recent study by the World Jewish Congress sheds some light on the extent of the problem. According to their findings, every 83 seconds, another hateful antisemitic message is posted on social media. Roughly every minute and a half, someone out there is taking the time to spread the same abhorrent stereotypes, lies, and manipulations Hitler used to lead Germany into the darkest chapter of human history.

As horrifying as this statistic is, it is also an exceedingly low estimate. The WJC based their findings on collected number of over 382,000 antisemitic messages they found posted to different social media channels in 2016. However, as they are working with historic, publicly accessible posts, they can only see posts that have not been deleted (either by moderation or voluntarily), and are publicly visible. This excludes vast private online communities of antisemites who come together specifically to share antisemitic material and strategize on how to make their views more mainstream. 

The findings also only find posts that are relatively easy to search and find in logs, discounting a large number of image based posts spreading racist "memes” or subtle and disguised racism (such as the use of multiple brackets around names, used by far-right antisemites to identify subjects as Jewish and part of a shadowy "cabal” of Jews they blame for most woes in the world). The study also did not include posts critical of the Israeli government. Criticisms of the Israeli government are of course fair game and can sometimes come in good faith with legitimate complaints and outlooks. But, as anyone who has examined the online discourse surrounding Israel can attest to, these kind of criticisms are often used to hide racist sentiment behind a mask of political commentary. 
The proliferation of antisemitic messages and memes are a threat that men and women of peace and justice should take seriously. While it is easy to write off online hatemongers are fringe wackjobs that nobody will take seriously, we've seen the destructive power of this kind of sustained propaganda effort again and again. 

The Nazi party did not rise up out of nowhere. It started with angry disgruntled racists that mainstream Germans also considered fringe wackjobs. But, with time and a consistent message, the early Nazis were able to convince enough people to take their views seriously. And even if they didn't convince the majority of Germans (at least to start), they convinced enough to bring their hateful message into the common discourse. They moved the standards of decency and hatred further and further, until what would have been considered social unacceptable became common sentiment, and the unthinkable (mass expulsion and genocide) became tenable positions. 

We can already see the seeds of this new antisemitism taking root. Look at Poland, where antisemitic violence and confrontations are on the rise. Where the far-right politicians become increasingly brazen with their anti-Jewish dog whistles in statements and speeches. Look at recent marches in America where far-right groups chanted Nazi slogans like "blood and soil.” These cretins are not coming from nowhere – they feel emboldened to be open with their hateful views because they see posts supporting those views every single day.

We live in an incredibly dangerous time. We cannot afford to ignore the rise of antisemitism in our midst or write the purveyors of hate off as lunatics who will never be able to advance their cause. It is up to those of us who learned the lessons of the holocaust to take a stand and send a loud, clear message to the modern Nazi – NEVER AGAIN.

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