OPINION: Forging new alliances with people of goodwill targeted by hate
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OPINION: Forging new alliances with people of goodwill targeted by hate

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center reflects on taking action to stop the scourge of social media extremism

Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Last week, as reported on the front page of Jewish News, I met with police at New Scotland Yard to present the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2019 Digital Terrorism and Hate Report. Our meeting looked out over the Thames and the two bridges where Islamists killed and maimed innocents not long ago.

Our discussion focused on two recent mass murders – the massacre of 11 Jews, at prayer in a Pittsburgh synagogue on a Shabbat morning and the murders of 50 Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Though they took place more 10,000 miles apart, these horrific attacks had four crucial common elements: First, both shooters were motivated by white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology. Second, each perpetrator was apparently acting as a “lone wolf.” Third, both believed there was a “genocide” against whites under way. Fourth, both were active on social media, where they found validation and encouragement.

It is the last point that should serve as a wake-up call to law enforcement, the media, community activists, governments, and, especially, the social media companies.

Extremists, from Isis terrorists to lonewolf domestic murderers are taking full advantage of online technologies afforded them by the likes of social media giants including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as well as lesser-known platforms that the Wiesenthal Center refers to as “Alt-tech”. They represent a new generation of social media portals that openly cater to extreme elements of the alt-right, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Last week’s front page

Both the Pittsburgh and Christchurch shooters were active on platforms like Gab and Voat. In addition, the New Zealand massacres were actually “live-streamed”, meaning broadcast live on social media.

A Facebook representative told me that the company had removed 1.5 million postings of the massacre, with millions more posted on other sites. The broadcast of mass murder is not only a desecration of the dead but a further threat to the living, as such outrages are used to recruit more extremists to hateful causes.

The Wiesenthal Center demanded that Facebook and other companies, including Twitter and YouTube, change their policies to make it impossible for the next deadly hate crime to be broadcast worldwide.

The internet has created a reality where everything global is local and every local act is instantaneously global. This is understood by domestic extremists and international terrorist groups. We were impressed and reassured that Scotland Yard is aware of these new trends and is doing is best to track online bigots, antisemites and supporters of terrorism. But it is not enough. It is time for all of us to man the defences on this new battlefield.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper

The Jewish world – starting with the family unit – can and must do more to monitor nefarious social media activity targeted at us. If you experience or are made aware by your children of threatening activity online, report it to the internet provider and to us at the Wiesenthal Center (information@wiesenthal.net).

In addition, Jewish communities must create new alliances with other people of goodwill targeted by bigotry.

By working together, we will be in a stronger position to demand the internet giants take stronger measures to degrade and defeat a growing online menace that threatens us all, whatever our religion, nationality or creed.

  • Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center
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