The Anti-Semitic Wrath that Exists on Twitter
I am not new to Anti-Semitism. However, as a Jewish writer and avid user of social media, the recent outbreak of blatant Anti-Semitism on Twitter has taken my experience to a whole new level. Having woken up to images of swastikas and concentration camps, as well as being called vile names like “kike” and “dirty Jew” earlier this week, I fear that the recent Presidential campaign has provoked voters and has given them the view that Twitter is a forum to target their abusive and racist messaging.
I grew up in Georgia. I was always one of five Jews in my class. When I took off for the Jewish holidays as a child, I was questioned by classmates and made fun of for falling behind. In first grade, a group of children danced around the Christmas tree making fun of the fact that I did not have one. During a trip to Washington, DC in high school, I roomed with a fellow southerner who sat by my bedside reading Mein Kampf, an autobiography by Adolf Hitler, in which he outlined his political ideology and future plans for Jews. My college roommate at the University of Georgia moved out of our dorm room because she had been taught that all Jews have horns.
I later moved to NYC in my 20s where it became much easier to express my Judaism. The expression and pride in my Jewish heritage became a very big part of me, and I felt compelled to carry on this passion when I joined Twitter in 2010. In 140 characters or less, I could talk not only talk about my Judaism but my feminism and liberalism. Twitter has led to real life connections, opportunities and has become an important part of my everyday work life as a writer and marketer for nearly seven years.
But some of my interactions have taken a noticeably darker turn this election season, and I was intrigued to read a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Between August of 2015 and this past July, Twitter experienced a sharp uptick in the number of Anti-Semitic tweets directed toward journalists and writers –around 2.6 million — with at least 800 journalists on the receiving end of such messages. Many of the tweets, the report found, originated from Twitter users identifying as Trump supporters, “conservatives,” or “nationalists.”
The numbers are daunting. ADL estimated that these tweets have had an estimated reach of 10 billion impressions which no doubt had led to a reinforcement and normalizing of Anti-Semitic language. And the amount of users using this language? A staggering 1.7 million.
The tweets that I woke up just a few days ago were very disturbing, but more importantly, they were targeted and full of racist hatred. I had not asked to be engaged with nor attacked. The night before, whilst watching CNN, I had simply expressed support for a Jewish journalist named Sally Kohn. I was attacked for merely expressing support for her point-of-view and our now Democratic Presidential candidate. Looking at every handle’s profile or tweets, it became highly evident that the tweets were coming from Donald Trump supporters, conservatives or right-wing extremists.
Donald Trump cannot be blamed for his supporter’s behavior, of course, but we can’t deny that he has encouraged them to lash out against members of the media. Time and time again, he has spoken about a conspiracy against him led by the media. He called them out at the Al Smith dinner last night and has denounced writers repeatedly. As a result, Jewish writers have been fiercely attacked on social media.
A report addressing the rest of the Jewish population on Twitter would be of interest, of course, as it is clear that the numbers ADL use in their report would sky rocket if they included non-journalists. I am a blogger and a writer who generally writes about culture, travel and advocacy. It is only in the past few months that I have taken more of a position politically and often speak my mind because I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton must win the next election. I have been dealt blows on Twitter during other times over the past 6 years, particularly during the war in Gaza, but never on this scale. The tweets, many of whom insulted my married name, “Fink,” insinuating that my name merits less of a human being, make me feel incredibly violated and vulnerable.
When I went on Facebook to air my feelings of frustration and fear about these anti-semitic words being thrown at me, I received an outpouring of sentiment from friends and family, some of whom don’t use social media, asking me to turn my back on Twitter. The overall consensus no doubt that they were all shocked to hear my about my experience. While I felt compelled to share my story with them, many of whom are not social media users, I feel just as compelled to stay on Twitter and defend who I am. My Judaism is very much a part of who I am and I will not push it to the side.
Other respondents stressed the fact that Twitter is not doing anything to monitor or control the public display of hate and venom. I’m not sure this is true — Twitter has said that it is committed to updating its software to both detect abuse and make reporting it easier. For now, I am reporting and blocking my worst offenders, not knowing whether my actions will make a difference though I heard that Twitter has deactivated 1/5 of these perpetrators as a result of the recent onslaught media brought on by these complaints. I also choose not to engage with my offenders because I also support the First Amendment and wonder if is helpful to know that this kind of hate exists in the world. Social media is making us aware of hostilities that might have felt non-existent or unfathomable. The people in my feed who were unaware that that Anti-Semitism is alive running rampant became aware by simply reading my Facebook post.
All I know is one thing — I will never stop speaking out. Regardless of who tries to insult or stop me.