Jew Hatred With — and Without — Algorithms
If you have ever found it profoundly disturbing that so much political debate centers on an online platform, Facebook, which was originally about social interaction, but has by now metamorphosed into a grotesque, many-headed monster that actively encourages (more about that later) and whips into a frenzy existing hatred against Israel and Jews, your intuition was correct. The latest journalistic experiment, in what can only be described as the dark underbelly of Facebook, confirms it.
While the fact that Facebook is rife with antisemitic hatred is not news to anyone with even a fleeting familiarity with the platform, the following is bound to disturb even the most hardened cynic.
A journalist from the British online newspaper Jewish News went undercover on Facebook, creating fake anti-Israel internet profiles in order to infiltrate the antisemitic hate groups that proliferate on the social platform. What he discovered were groups resembling “a lynch mob from the Middle Ages, its members winding each other up until the entire group is burning with an anger that is desperate for an outlet.” He mentions how one highly active group, “Israel is a War Criminal,” has more than 250,000 likes. Browsing its timeline regularly, he says, “is a horrifying and deeply disturbing influence. … It is a cesspit of vile and extreme political activism.”
What is of most concern, however, is not even the virtual cesspit of violent language and hatred, or the sewer-like fabricated memes created, Goebbels-style, merely to elicit the most primitive response against Israel and Jews. The most disturbing part in all this is that Facebook actively participates in the hate fest, egging the participants on until hate is everywhere: “As the website builds a profile of what you like and what you do not, it begins to form a unique bubble around your online existence … which means when I search for ‘Israel,’ I receive groups that are inherently pro-Israeli, but when ‘Mr. X’ does, he sees a completely different list. … The truly disturbing element of the search results is that they produce a list that is almost hermetically sealed in one direction. They give the appearance that the other side doesn’t exist.”
In other words, Facebook’s algorithms ensure that users only see more of what they have already liked and seen. Therefore, if you are an antisemitic or anti-Israel Facebook user, Facebook aims to please by showing you antisemitic or anti-Israel Facebook posts, even if you just put in ”Israel” in the search field. In this way, those Facebook users “learn” that their warped reality is “true,” repeatedly confirming their prejudices until the hatred has become all-pervasive.
The Jewish News journalist’s observation regarding Facebook’s algorithms aptly confirms what Shurat Hadin concluded in October, when the Israeli organization filed a lawsuit against Facebook: “Facebook actively assists the inciters to find people who are interested in acting on their hateful messages by offering friend, group and event suggestions and targeting advertising based on people’s online ‘likes’ and internet browsing history.”
In other words, Facebook actively works to create hate-filled, antisemitic echo chambers — a sobering and truly horrific thought that everyone ought to consider, whenever they enter the virtual meeting place.
The trouble with the online echo chambers is, of course, that they do not remain online. The incitement makes its way into the real world, where it may manifest itself in stabbings and murders in Israel and antisemitic hate crimes and terrorism elsewhere.
Let’s take a step back from the virtual world for a moment and contemplate whether we see the disturbing Facebook trend in real life as well. Echo chambers are not unique to the virtual world of social media. It is a growing phenomenon in real life, as well — a particular version of “reality” regarding Israel is promulgated, circulated and reinforced endlessly, until it becomes the only “truth.”
The United Nations is one such echo chamber, where the very language applied about Israel is coded in phrases that denote a reality that does not exist outside this disaster of an international organization. Nevertheless, most of the diplomats involved in the UN, whether they agree with this language or not in private, uniformly employ it as if it were true, leading to the establishment of a false reality that has dire consequences on the decisions and votes made against Israel. One recent and striking example was the yearly vote on Israel in the World Health Organization, where the Jewish state was again denounced as the world’s only health violator. The absurdity of this decision is extreme, yet grown men and women, highly educated diplomats from supposedly civilized nations such as the UK, France and Germany, supported the resolution. By doing this, they not only betrayed all logic and the justice they purport to support, but they clearly demonstrated that there exists in the UN an alternate reality similar to the alternate reality that Jew-haters inhabit online in the seedy underbelly of Facebook.
Western academia and university campuses represent another echo chamber where the established ”truths” abut Israel may not be challenged according to the reigning rules of political correctness, and where professors and social justice warriors reinforce each other’s deep-seated antisemitic prejudices in a way that creates an alternate reality similar to those mentioned above.
This is not, however, limited to university education. In Britain, a schoolgirl from Wanstead High School was met with frenzied jubilation and won the regional final in a speaker’s competition, the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, after giving a virulent anti-Israel speech. The speech was a primitive variation of the most commonly spewed diatribes against Israel, yet she was applauded by the school’s teachers and pupils, as well as the local authorities, and rewarded accordingly.
Tis is the result of yet another echo chamber, which now exists in British primary education. The British National Union of Teachers, aptly named NUT, actively condones similar propaganda to that which is found on Facebook’s hate sites, in the UN and in academia, thus supporting from an early age the imbibing of British children with hatred toward Israel and furthering the dissemination of Palestinian propaganda. As an example of this, NUT recently supported a conference, “Nakba: Then and Now” in London, organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. At this conference, ex-NUT President Philippa Harvey, speaking on behalf of the union, described a new project called “Beyond the Wall,” which intends to engage UK schools in learning about schooling in conflict zones. The project intends to show films to the young Britons that illustrate “the daily struggles experienced by Palestinian children as they try to gain an education.” One hardly dares to imagine the kind of untruths and propaganda running rampant in those films.
Whereas it is important to fight the virtual cesspool of hatred, which serves as its own brainwasher and echo chamber, as it were, on Facebook, we must not lose sight of the fact that the exact same mechanisms at work on Facebook are very much at play in the way that antisemites and Israel haters operate in the real world. There they create their own nonvirtual echo chambers, which are equally or even more dangerous, because they have a much further reach than just the haters and trolls prowling the internet.
By surrounding themselves with like-minded haters and creating alternate realities and ways of speaking about those realities, in schools, on campus, in academic circles and among diplomats in the UN, they ultimately become blind to any kind of objective facts, and they even lose the language needed for rational discourse about Israel. And they don’t even need computer algorithms to do it.
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.