The struggle against the abundance of lies targeting Israel, as well as antisemitic tropes on social media platforms, is an ongoing battle. And yet, with these struggles come a real opportunity, and the digital arena is finally showing that it can be used for positive and effective change. The pro-Israel voice is making a real impact and seeing a shift, acting as a ray of hope amid the dark oceans of false information against Israel.
The power that social media giants have on the public sphere has already been well-established. This enormous presence in our daily lives has changed society forever, giving the public significant power to speak up and make a real difference in society. However, this power can be wielded as a dangerous weapon that enables false narratives and misinformation and provides a stage for hate speech and incitement under the guise of free speech against the "other." In this climate, one group stands out as especially vulnerable: Jews.
Whether in public posts, the comments section, or in private messages, Jews are constantly being harassed and silenced online, creating a toxic environment where many report feeling unsafe, and it's getting worse every year.
In 2021 alone, over 3.5 million antisemitic posts were uploaded across online platforms, with only 25% of reported antisemitic posts removed. On Twitter, for example, #hitlerwasright is still allowed to be used as a hashtag, and the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repeatedly exploits the platform to express his wish for the destruction of Israel. Furthermore, TikTok and Telegram are filled with antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories.
The biggest struggle comes down to this: It's a numbers game. In a fast-paced digital environment, lies tend to circulate faster than the truth. Since the early days of Facebook, it was clear for us at StandWithUs, a non-partisan, non-profit Israel education organization, that combating this distortion on the digital front is essential. With the mission to educate and inspire about Israel while fighting antisemitism and combating the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) hate groups, we have managed, over the years, to grow a vast presence online, becoming one of the leading pro-Israel and Jewish voices in the world. As the obsessive efforts to delegitimize the Jewish people's right to self-determination have become increasingly extreme, the importance of our presence on social media has come to be that much more crucial.
Are we doomed to failure in the public eye on social media?
My answer is NO. The struggle against the abundance of misinformation is an ongoing battle, but with it comes a real opportunity. The digital arena is finally showing that it can be used for positive and effective change, with pro-Israel and Jewish voices making a real impact.
The first major change we noticed in the discourse came during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021 between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The usual staggering number of voices against Israel surprised no one, with major social media accounts sharing complete lies and blood libels against Israel and Jews. On multiple occasions, these online attacks led to physical violence on the streets of major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles. However, we also saw a shift towards the Israeli and Jewish side, with over 105 million people being reached by StandWithUs content in just eight days on our social media platforms alone. And before anyone asks: "Aren't we just preaching to the choir? Aren't we just reaching Jews?" I say that I wish there were so many Jews or Jewish allies, for that matter.
We see the shift in our success rate against antisemitic accounts as well. Through online letter-writing campaigns, we managed to take down many prominent antisemitic channels responsible for spreading conspiracy theories and vicious hatred against Jews, Israelis and their supporters.
Don't get me wrong. The numbers of the anti-Israel network are still very disturbing – but we are finally seeing a real change. We are putting up an effective fight, and it's not just us. More and more voices are joining the battle on social media. Amazing organizations and individuals, Jews and non-Jews alike, are daring to speak up and make an impact, whether on TikTok, Instagram, or the comments sections. This is where I believe we finally have a fighting chance to subdue the false narratives about Israel.
But one more step is needed – social media companies must do more. There has been some improvement, especially on Facebook and Instagram, regarding posting or reporting antisemitic content. I wish I could say the same about Twitter and TikTok. As I see it, the most effective way to encourage social media companies to join the battle of combatting antisemitism and delegitimization on their platforms would be for them to adopt the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by numerous countries and organizations worldwide, into their community guidelines. They need to define antisemitism in order to fight it.
Whether that will happen or not, we will continue to be a leader in the battle for accuracy and fairness, the fight against antisemitism, and the mission of inspiring millions every week about Israel. And it is a battle, but one we must not, and will not, shirk from.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Sacha Stawski.