This piece originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

In the constantly expanding digital universe, purveyors of hate are exploiting the newest communications technologies to threaten Jews.

The deleterious impact of the “digitization of antisemitism” was revealed in the 2020 State of Antisemitism in America report recently issued by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Twenty-two percent of American Jewish adults have experienced antisemitism online or on social media in the last five years. Of this group, 62% said they had been the targets of antisemitic remarks on Facebook, 33% on Twitter, 12% on Instagram and 10% on YouTube.

The impact of hate Jews are experiencing online mirrors the experience with more traditional forms of antisemitism. While 24% say they avoid wearing, carrying or displaying things that might identify them as Jews, and 31% avoid certain places, events or situations out of concern for their safety, the AJC survey also found that 24% who are active on social media avoid posting content that may identify them as Jewish.

“We all need to send the message that antisemitism in any form is unacceptable on or offline,” Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s US director for combating antisemitism, told the Inter-parliamentary Task Force on Online Antisemitism last month.

Findings in AJC’s second annual comprehensive survey of US Jewish perceptions of and experiences with antisemitism in the United States reflect the fast-moving changes in how antisemitism is transmitted.

“Digitization of antisemitism is the farthest-reaching battleground. What happens online doesn’t stay online,” says Huffnagle, recalling that the hate-filled individuals who carried out the murderous assaults at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and Chabad of Poway posted threatening manifestos shortly before their attacks.

One essential tool to combat antisemitism is keeping law enforcement informed. But 76% of American Jews who have experienced an antisemitic incident do not report it at all, and only 4% tell the police.

This reluctance concerns top law enforcement officials across the country. “You are going to lose every case you do not charge,” Ohio Attorney-General Dave Yost said on an AJC Advocacy Anywhere program, in an appeal to “victims of hate crimes who have declined to report because they feel nothing is going to happen.”

But a perceived lack of responsiveness also may inhibit willingness to report. Nearly half (46%) of American Jews who reported online antisemitism to a social media platform said that nothing was done to address the incident.

The amassing of hate, and specifically antisemitism, online demands attention and action by the leaders of the technology giants. The creators of top social media platforms may have begun with good intentions pioneering global communications, but as some veteran social media executives admitted in the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, the consequences of people and groups imbued with hate and limitless reach were underestimated or ignored.

“Freedom of speech must never be confused with freedom to incite violence and hatred,” New York Attorney-General Letitia James said on the AJC program where Yost appeared.

Putting the evil social media genie back in the bottle is an enormous challenge. Facebook, for one, has taken steps to ban certain antisemitic stereotypes as well as Holocaust denial and distortion. It’s a methodical process, relying heavily on human moderators, who can follow-up on what the algorithms are missing.

“Facebook has two billion users worldwide, but 90% of them do not live in the United States and Canada,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy, explained on a recent AJC Advocacy Anywhere program. Training moderators to identify what constitutes antisemitic posts is imperative.

But users also need to learn what is antisemitic, and whether they are engaging in it online or offline. AJC’s survey of the general American population, also part of the State of Antisemitism in America report, found that only 53% of Americans are familiar with the term “antisemitism.” Another 25% acknowledged that they do not know what the word means even though they said they have heard it, and 21% said they had never heard the term “antisemitism.”

The correlation between awareness and education level is pronounced. Thirty-six percent of those with a high school diploma or less, 14% with some college, and 9% with a college degree were among the 21% who are totally unaware of the term antisemitism.

While 82% of American Jews said antisemitism in the US has increased over the past five years, 47% of the general population who have completed at least some college agreed, compared with 36% of those with less education.

In the US, the adage “what begins with Jews doesn’t end with Jews,” is not resonating throughout American society, even though some elected officials, religious and ethnic leaders have recognized and declared that antisemitism is a problem for all to address.

Ignorance is a significant obstacle to developing and implementing concrete actions aimed at containing and pushing back the proliferation of antisemitism. Those involved in the business of education, including social media firms, should lead in making the battle against antisemitism a national priority.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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