Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and other tech giants have revolutionized our lives for the better in many ways and raked in billions of dollars in profits in the process. But unfortunately, they have also allowed the Internet to become an important tool used by racists, anti-Semites, terrorists and other purveyors of hatred and violence.
With social media and websites increasingly serving as our lifeline to news, entertainment and our children’s education, it would be irresponsible to ignore people who weaponize these essential communication tools in the service of hate groups.
I launched the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Hate Project 27 years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy. When we first met with Facebook it was a small company that owned one building. Now more than 1 billion people around the world use Facebook.
Millions of us were outraged to see neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and other anti-Semites and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, loudly chanting “Jews shall not replace us.” They carried torches as if they were proudly parading in Nazi Germany in the 1930s or 1940s.
But when these groups use the Internet to spread lies and hatred they draw far less attention from most Americans. Yet the groups can actually have greater impact in cyberspace in poisoning impressionable mind and infecting them with hatred.
It is irresponsible for Big Tech companies to say they are simply common carriers that transmit information the way telephone companies transmit calls. The tech companies have an obligation to set and follow rules setting limitations on what can be said on their platforms so they can degrade the online marketing efforts of purveyors or racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in all its ugly forms.
And since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it has become vital to our national security that the tech companies stop terrorists from using their platforms to plot deadly attacks and recruit new terrorists.
High-fives are few and far between in the struggle against hate. And there is precious little to celebrate when preparing a report card on social media-delivered hate.
Take the new social media whiz-kid on the block, TikTok, which President Trump said Friday he will ban from the U.S. However, TikTok’s general manager for the U.S. posted a video saying “We’re not planning on going anywhere,” and any move by the president to shut down the site by executive order, as he said he would do, would likely face a legal challenge. Fox Business reported Friday that Microsoft has begun talks to buy the company.
An algorithm on TikTok’s platform drove 6.5 million viewers to an anti-Semitic song that includes the lyrics: “We’re going on a trip to a place called Auschwitz, it’s shower time.”
Twitter was for years the weapon of choice of ISIS while members of the terrorist group were beheading, raping, killing and maiming innocents across the Middle East and beyond.
The first video to use the song showed a giant robot scorpion with a swastika attacking and killing people. TikTok’s algorithm ensured that video alone got more than 6 million views. Other videos that made further use of the song accounted for the additional half-million views.
Last year, TikTok was forced to remove ISIS postings targeting children, replete with pink hearts and songs.
And even Facebook, which continues to have the most aggressive commitment to stop hate and terrorist postings, is still challenged by more than 280 ISIS-related postings.
While Facebook now blocks Holocaust denial campaigns by Iran and Holocaust-denying groups, the company still inexplicably allows denial of the Holocaust to be posted on private pages — despite our pleas and those from Holocaust survivors. We hope that Mark Zuckerberg and his team will totally ban such hateful and disgusting lies from their platform.
But Twitter is by far the social media giant that is the worst offender in allowing racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred to spread like a metastasizing cancer.
Start with hashtags. Our researchers went on Twitter and entered #holohoax. Holohoax is the most active with current hate postings, some of which lead to other hashtags including #loljews, which includes postings targeting Jews with anti-Semitic innuendo.
Much of this comes from the extreme far-right, with many posts using the “echo” around names to denote Jews — like this: ((( ))).
One post claims “Jewish supremacists actively calling for GLOBAL #whitegenocide.” Hashtags like #kalergiplan (a white nationalist hoax claiming a Jewish plan exists to breed Europe out of existence) also lead to materials related to QAnon and other conspiracy platforms.
Other offensive hashtags include, #jewishprivilege #jewishliesmatter #jewishwaronhumanity and #jewishtricks. These are just a few examples but they can all be reached from the starting point of #holohoax.
It’s no secret that Twitter was for years the weapon of choice of ISIS while members of the terrorist group were beheading, raping, killing and maiming innocents across the Middle East and beyond.
A Stanford University study confirms these staggering numbers:
Tweets posted by ISIS-related accounts: 23,880 accounts that generated over 17.4 million tweets.
ISIS retweets: There are 10. 4 million retweets, posted by 551,869 users.
ISIS mentions: All tweets that mention any ISIS accounts: Almost 19.6 million tweets generated by 745,721 accounts.
Twitter has been playing catch-up ever since. A Fortune Magazine article confirms that the social media giant has deleted more than 1.2 million terrorist accounts.
Except Twitter hasn’t deleted the account of the godfather of international terrorism: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly threatened to wipe the Jewish state of Israel off the map.
Nothing Khamenei can do or say apparently can get the Jew-hating, genocide-threatening leader thrown off of Twitter, not even when he used the Nazi “Final Solution” term to threaten Israel.
This is taking place while Twitter has the temerity to put its thumb of the scale of the presidential campaign by removing statements by a sitting president of the United States. Whether you are a supporter or opponent of President Trump, we should all be able to agree that his tweets are not in the same category as the toxic tweets of Khamenei calling for mass murder.
Memo to the Tech Giants: Get your priorities right: Stop racists, anti-Semites and terrorists. Stay out of American politics. Our world and democracy will be safer and stronger if you do.