Free Speech and Religion

Combating the Rise of Hate Online

June 30, 2017  • Jonathan Greenblatt

Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He is speaking about the rise in hate online and in our communities at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival

Fifty years ago, extremists were hiding behind hoods and burning crosses. Today, they’re hiding behind avatars and burning up Twitter.

At the Anti-Defamation League, we’ve fought anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry for more than 100 years. And we have evolved with the times: since 1985, we have had a dedicated team tracking online hate speech and hate groups exploiting the internet. Back then, online hate mostly consisted of neo-Nazis and other extremists using online bulletin boards to communicate.

Today, hate can travel far and fast with a single click. Each year, as more and more people join more and more social media platforms, the problem gets worse.

In the past year, we not only experienced the most divisive election in my lifetime, but unprecedented rhetoric triggered an increase in hate on social media. Our research, for instance, found this environment fueled a torrent of harassment against Jewish journalists online. There were 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists, with 90 percent of these directed at just 10 top journalists.

Today, hate can travel far and fast with a single click.

Hateful rhetoric online normalizes hate in the real world and leads to hate crimes. The most recent national FBI data tell us from 2014 to 2015 there was a 6.8 percent increase in hate crimes. Data from local law enforcement agencies, such as NYPD, show even greater increases since 2016. And our longstanding audit showed a 34 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2015 to 2016 and an 86 percent increase in the first quarter of 2017. These have included Jewish cemetery desecrations and bomb threats to JCCs and other Jewish institutions.

Moreover, white supremacists feel emboldened to recruit impressionable youth; ADL tracked a significant surge in white supremacist activity on college campuses throughout the 2016-17 school year. More than 100 American college campuses were targeted by 160 incidents of racist fliers and stickers.

In addition to these incidents, Americans are feeling a rising sense of hate. We found, for the first time, a majority of Americans (52 percent) said they were concerned about violence in the U.S. directed at Jews. An even a higher percentage (76 percent) said they were concerned about violence directed at Muslims, and 89 percent of Muslim Americans told us they were concerned about violence directed at themselves and Islamic institutions. Overwhelmingly, those surveyed said the government needs to do more to prevent violence against Jews.

Each and every one of us needs to be part of this fight.

So what can we do to prevent hate online and in our communities?

First, we need to stop hate before it starts. Education is the best antidote. For decades, ADL has been running anti-bias and anti-bullying programs to prepare K-12 teachers to help students be aware, respectful, informed, and welcoming of people with different backgrounds.

Second, we must improve national hate crimes data collection. Current data is woefully inadequate and understates the gravity of hate crimes. There are 87 large U.S. cities that either told the FBI they had zero hate crimes or didn’t provide information. That’s a big gap.

Third, because the internet is where hate is growing most rapidly, ADL is building a state-of-the-art center in Silicon Valley. We will expand our monitoring and tracking of online hate, work with law enforcement to investigate, and partnerships with tech industry leaders to develop best practices.

Finally, we all need to do our part and take responsibility for the culture of hate. It’s up to all of us to say hate is not acceptable – in our schools and in our places of worship, in our homes and online, in our political discourse and in the stories we tell our children. It matters.

ADL was founded on the belief that the fight against one form of prejudice requires fighting hate in all forms. Each and every one of us needs to be part of this fight to create a society where everyone feels safe from discrimination and has the freedom to pursue happiness.

The views and opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.

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