Study: antisemitic myth that Jews benefited from pandemic is widespread

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Study: antisemitic myth that Jews benefited from pandemic is widespread

Report carried out for the Institute for Freedom of Faith and Security in Europe warns of 'a wave of new narratives of conspiracy theories and disinformation'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Sanitising in a synagogue
Sanitising in a synagogue

The conspiratorial narrative that Jews have benefited financially from the coronavirus pandemic has become a widely shared antisemitic myth now  widely circulated on social media, a new study has found.

A new study, carried out by Hannah Rose for the Institute for Freedom of Faith and Security in Europe (IFFSE), found the slur was one of the antisemitic and Islamophobic narratives that has spread on social media during the global pandemic.

The IFFSE report states that, despite some efforts, social media platforms have demonstrably not acted sufficiently to effectively prevent the spread of antisemitism and Islamophobia on their platforms.

Another myth is that Muslims use Coronavirus as a weapon against those of other faiths – including the fake claim they are encouraged by imams to spread the infection through door knobs.

Former Union of Jewish Students president Rose warns in the report that “a wave of new narratives of conspiracy theories and disinformation left platforms unprepared and unable to cope in the early days of the pandemic, and while many research participants noted the steps that had been taken to address COVID misinformation in particular, there remains more work to be done in order to adequately address the threats outlined in this research.”

The report suggests online conspiracy-theory movements have been successful in attracting new audiences under COVID circumstances.

This online hatred has also shown itself offline, according to the IFFSE study – particularly at rallies against Covid-related lockdowns or vaccination campaigns.

Resulting from this, faith communities such as Jews and Muslims have come increasingly under threat and are more afraid to live out their faith and way of life in public because of online hate.

During the presentation of the report in Brussels on Monday,  Daniel Hoeltgen, Special Representative of the Council of Europe against antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes, said that the commitment of platform operators in this field has so far been half-hearted and that more needs to be done in the area of content moderation.

For Illka Salmi, EU Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator, the contribution of social platform operators is fundamental to effectively address hate speech and hate content. But regulation is also crucial, he said. “The European Commission’s Digital Service Act is a big step forward in curbing this problem.”

The IFFSE – a think tank launched by  the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) list a series of recommendations in its report for social media firms.

For example, antisemitic and Islamophobic content on Facebook should be flagged like Covid fake news. In addition, the platforms should cooperate more closely.

This is also against the background that extremists exploit mainstream services by publishing just acceptable content there in order to lure users to more radical websites.

States are recommended to punish antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech online as severely as offline. Civic education should be promoted to make society less vulnerable to misinformation and racist conspiracies.

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