Is social media enabling antisemitism? - analysis

Melissa Chapman's comments and posts on Instagram defending Israel from Gigi Hadid were taken down while Hadid's weren't.

 Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram apps are seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)
Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram apps are seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)

On March 6, US social media influencer and content creator Melissa Chapman, who frequently posted updates about the news in Israel, wrote a comment factually disputing Gigi Hadid’s Instagram post comparing the “human injustice” and “suffering” of Ukrainians to Palestinians. She also posted that comment under Vogue Magazine’s post applauding Hadid.

Five days later, six of Chapman’s Instagram posts that illustrated what happened to Eli Kay, a 26-year-old Israeli who was murdered by a Hamas terrorist, were suddenly removed. Instagram determined that her content was violent or dangerous, and warned that she could lose access to her account.

A photo of Jews praying, mourning Kay in the Old City where he was killed, was singled out as the reason for why Chapman could no longer access branded content tools that allow her to monetize her account until June 10. Her account – @melissaSchapman – was also shadow banned, making it virtually impossible for other users to find her on the site.

Other deleted posts included a tribute to Kay, security guards entering the gates of Jerusalem after he was killed, young men standing by the Israeli flag and people gathering at the Western Wall where Kay worked as a guide. A picture of the murderer, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, with his son, who praised him for being a martyr, was also taken down.

Out of fear of losing her business, Chapman has removed most of her Israel-based content.

 WE MUST stand together against BDS and all forms of antisemitism. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) WE MUST stand together against BDS and all forms of antisemitism. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“How many people are they doing this to?” She asked. “If they take away your money, you’re going to shut up. They’ve taken away my ability to talk about Israel. I’m even afraid to post Jewish content now, to be honest, about Passover, about keeping kosher, about Shabbat. If they’re saying that a picture of people standing and praying together is violent.”

Chapman is not alone. The Consulate-General of Israel in New York’s media department has received several reports of antisemitic comments on social media, as well as accounts being reported for posting pro-Israel messages.

The consulate said that it is working to find out who is behind these attacks on Jewish influencers, which it is labeling as “cyberbullying.”

“It is our duty to fight antisemitism on all fronts, and social media cannot be excused from the conversation,” Asaf Zamir, the consul general of Israel in New York, declared in a statement. “Jewish influencers should not get banned from a platform for simply posting about their religious heritage and nationality.”

Emily Schrader, CEO and co-founder of the digital marketing firm, Social Lite Creative, has also had content removed from Instagram. She posted a video of terrorist Ahlam Tamimi smiling joyfully when she found out she killed eight children in the 2001 Sbarro terrorist attack and captioned it, “This is what evil looks like.” It was removed 12 hours later.

Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs Israel, an educational organization that combats antisemitism and supports Israel, explained that it’s crucial social media platforms “ensure that their algorithms, as well as human oversight, does not confuse the posts that are meant to expose violent content with the posts that are meant to inspire hate and violence.”

IN TERMS OF content restrictions, Schrader stated, “TikTok has also censored and removed my content about pro-Israel issues countless times. In some cases, the same content has been reposted by other supporters of my work and theirs won’t be censored, but mine is! The people reposting have smaller followings than me. I think they are able to post because people mass report mine.”

Schrader also noticed an extremely disproportionate number of likes and comments compared to the view count.

Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism.org, explained, “We are often the target of mass reporting campaigns that sometimes results in the ‘downranking’ of our page. We’re thankful for the relationship we have with Meta so incidents like this are often remedied quickly. However, the majority of Israeli and Jewish influencers and allies do not, unfortunately resulting in their voice and content suppression.... It’s essentially a form of censorship.”

Content creator Libby Walker (@libbyamberwalker), a Jewish educator and food blogger; Melinda Strauss (@therealmelindastrauss); and Lifestyle blogger Sivan Banai (@sivan_g) say that they all been targets of vitriolic antisemitism on TikTok that appears to be a mass organized cyberbullying campaign, and that comments they report are never taken down.

For Walker, it started with a Birthright Israel-branded video that received so many antisemitic comments, it was removed, resulting in her account having a high risk of being banned. Walker spoke out by posting a statement that was widely shared, and she was able to get her video restored. She turned off the comments when it was restored.

“No one should have to prove themselves this much to be Jewish online,” she says.

Strauss also started turning the comments off after a TikTok video she posted of her 11-year-old daughter mentioning the possibility of having her bat mitzvah in Israel stirred up a firestorm of hate. Travel photos she posted on Instagram, including one of her hands touching the Western Wall, were also temporarily taken down.

This has deterred Strauss from posting more Israel-related content, and she has resorted to creating filters for words like “Holocaust,” “Hitler,” “six million wasn’t enough” and “free Palestine.” She said, “I’m going to Israel this summer, and I’m in my head preparing myself for the crazy.”

A TikTok video Banai posted about falafel was targeted with so much hostility from Palestinian “activists” that it was also temporarily removed.

“They all just ganged up. They all got together and decided to report the video,” Banai said. “I have a feeling it was like that... a lot of activists who are joining forces and trying to take us down.”

Banai also uses filters so she won’t have to be exposed to words too horrific to mention that compare Israel to Nazi Germany. She stated, “It’s creating more antisemitism everywhere.”

Criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who frequently shares Zionist views on his podcast “Beyond the Legal Limit,” explained that since social media companies are not governmental agencies, they can censor freely without repercussions for infringing upon freedom of speech. His own Twitter account was canceled for replying to an Israel-hating tweet from Ayatollah Khamenei that has remained up for two years. Lichtman called this double standard “bias against Israel,” and noted that Hamas has multiple Twitter accounts.

The Jerusalem Post reached out to Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. A Meta spokesperson from Instagram replied, “Our policies are designed to let our community share what matters to them while keeping them safe, and we always work to apply these policies as accurately and consistently as possible. Our teams are looking into the accounts flagged by The Jerusalem Post, to make sure we haven’t made mistakes in enforcing our policies.”

Melissa Chapman reported to the Post that earlier this week, Instagram gave her back her branded content tools.

TikTok and Twitter did not reply to requests for comment.