Online antisemitism is surging. It must be stopped before it is too late

Melissa Fleming
We The Peoples
Published in
5 min readFeb 14


Photo Roberta Politi/UN

Online antisemitism is as old as the internet. At first largely confined to the extremist fringe, in recent years we’ve seen anti-Jewish hate speech leaching from far-right forums onto mainstream platforms. Alarm bells are ringing. We must urgently confront online hate while upholding freedoms.

Fringe extremist web communities have long been drivers of online antisemitism. Unmoderated platforms such as Gab, Parler, and 4Chan have connected antisemites around the world. Over time, far-right, alt-right, and white supremacists met and egged each other on into further extremes.

Whole subcultures emerged as a result, repackaging age-old antisemitic tropes as vicious memes for the internet age. Online mashups of old hatreds have seen paranoid myths, misogynist, racist, and homophobic views blended with gaming references to win round new young far-right recruits.

Those interested in violence do not have to look far on such sites for material to justify their prejudice. In dedicated forums, would-be assailants have been radicalized, tutored, and urged to commit heinous acts. Deadly attacks have even been streamed live on the same forums.

Such extremist corners of the web exist because platforms are unable or unwilling to moderate them. But these ugly and dangerous ideas are no longer confined to the fringes. More or less coded references and antisemitic dog whistles are now reaching billions on major social media platforms.

This is true even on platforms with strict community guidelines and moderation. One 2018 study found that 10% of conversations on Twitter about Jews and Israel are antisemitic. Another counted 4.2 million antisemitic tweets over the same year. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

COVID supercharged this process. Hateful conspiracy theories flooded timelines depicting Jews — individually and collectively — as the creators and benefactors of the pandemic. Overall, online antisemitic content rose by 30% in the first few months of COVID, the World Jewish Congress said.

Some of this content was veiled, in a bid for so-called “plausible deniability.” Antisemites often attempt to stay within legal and social boundaries, hiding in plain sight behind coded keywords or innuendos. This sits alongside overt hatred, up to and including Holocaust distortion and denial.

The dangers of this kind of content can’t be understated. Denials and distortions of the Holocaust are often accompanied by and feed off other forms of antisemitic hate speech. To remember the Holocaust is to understand its warning, while forgetting it opens the door to renewed violence.

We know that hate speech is often a precursor to atrocity crimes, including genocide. Dehumanizing hate speech spread via state-controlled media fed the fire of the Holocaust and sought broad support for systemic injustice and marginalization that culminated in mass murder.

Later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina followed similar patterns. Leaders spouted intolerant, divisive and dangerous rhetoric to stir up tensions, deny established facts and make scapegoats of marginalized national, ethnic, or religious groups. Violence followed.

This practice continues in the digital age — only the communication tools have changed. Now, bad actors are using tools engineered in Silicon Valley to do the same thing. There are numerous examples, among them deadly attacks on Jewish worshipers in synagogues around the world.

Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are now the top internal security threat in several countries — and the fastest growing. As long as those and other voices can deny or distort the Holocaust online with impunity, the threat of mass violence simmers.

Platforms don’t only host this kind of content. They actively boost it. Outrage-hungry algorithms designed to maximize engagement amplify hate and lies. Recommendation algorithms on many platforms have promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories, Holocaust distortion and denial.

This particularly dangerous form of antisemitic online hate is alarmingly widespread. Our 2022 report found it makes up 50% of Holocaust-related posts on unmoderated platform Telegram. On TikTok it is 17% of Holocaust-related content, on Facebook 10%, and on Twitter 15%.

In recent days it emerged that Twitter has been running corporate ads for alongside posts by antisemites and Holocaust deniers. This shameless profiteering from hatred and extremism on the platform is unfortunately not an isolated incident. New analysis by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found previously banned accounts now generating millions of dollars in advertising revenue.

Facebook and TikTok have now partnered with the UN to show users accurate information about the Holocaust. Yet our 2022 study shows just how patchy enforcement really is. The bottom line here is that platitudes just won’t cut it. Only the platforms can stop online spaces being used to spread bigotry.

That’s why we’re keeping up the pressure on social media companies. We need them to actively tackle hate, enforce their own rules, and be more transparent. We expect them to flag antisemitic behavior and move decisively against those profiting from such content.

Our response must go beyond that. We need all levels of private and public life to tackle the causes and drivers of hate speech. Education is key — targeted campaigns to boost digital literacy and critical thinking skills can help inoculate people against hateful lies and conspiracy theories.

More widely, we are advocating for a healthier information ecosystem. One where independent, public service journalism is bolstered, and technology serves the public good. We want a humane internet that doesn’t polarize or amplify hate and lies. That means guardrails, properly enforced.

There is a fine balance to be struck. Approaches must be careful to respect the right to freedom of expression and opinion. They must be proportionate and balance reducing harm with upholding freedoms. Incitement is the line in the sand at the point hate crosses over into illegal, violent speech.

It was lies and hate that paved the way for past genocides and atrocities. Failure to confront them is to risk repeating the darkest chapters in human history. Today it is our responsibility to do everything that was not done then. It is up to all of us, now and in future, to never let the world forget.



Melissa Fleming
We The Peoples

Chief Communicator #UnitedNations promoting a peaceful, sustainable, just & humane world. Author: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. Podcast: Awake at Night.