Anti-Semitism and the Internet: A Struggle Against Hate
As social media platforms fail to enforce their terms of service, anti-Semitism spreads.
It has been three years since the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, where eleven people were killed in an anti-Semitic attack that shook the world. Now, Jewish creators on Twitch and multiple social media platforms are subject to the same vitriol that reared its ugly head in Pittsburgh.
Anti-Semitism is long-standing prejudice that has plagued the world. It is one of the oldest forms of ethnic hatred, dating back to the ancient era and spreading into the medieval era, where Europeans blamed Jewish residents for the Black plague and retaliated with violence. Among some of the persecutions medieval Jews suffered were false accusations of well-poisoning, tortured confessions, and being burned alive.
In the modern era, however, anti-Semitism has become a matter of propaganda, harassment, and eventual violence. In October of 2019, two people were killed in a shooting in the Halle Synagogue Shooting, in which a 27-year-old attacked the congregants. The shooter was later determined to be an anti-Semite, who routinely posted on sites such as 4-Chan and 8-Chan about Jews and feminists. During the attack, the massacre was live-streamed on Twitch, prompting calls for the live-streaming platform to do more to address anti-Jewish hatred and violence on its site.
However, anti-Semitism remains a problem. Miami Heat center, Meyers Leonard was the subject of intense controversy over his usage of anti-Semitic slurs during a stream on Twitch in which he referred to his online opponent as a “f---ing k--- b----.” The slurs spurred intense outrage among the public and resulted in Leonard being suspended and fined $50,000 for his offensive statements. He was banned from Twitch but was reinstated within the month.
Leonard is not the first to spread such vitriol. Other streamers such as Tom Cassell, aka ProSyndicate, and Henry “HenryG” Greer, have also been accused of anti-Semitism. Though Twitch has established an advisory council to address the rising tide of prejudice and toxicity, anti-Semitism remains a problem. Something Eristocracy, a Jewish-Canadian history streamer knows all too well.
Note: Eristocracy requested to be referred to be her username to protect herself from harassment. The Progressive American agreed with the request as she has taken great pains to protect herself. Requests for anonymity will be respected in any future interviews.
Eristocracy, a streamer who has been active for a little over a month and who her fans affectionately refer to as “Eris” has seen a rise in her following and with it, plenty of attention. As of April 28th, she rests at a comfortable 5.9 thousand followers on Twitch and a similarly strong 5.42 thousand subscribers on YouTube. Earlier this month, she interviewed the Socialist streamer Vaush, discussing his many takes on online politics and discourse, along with some controversies.
As a result of this growing influence, Eris has also been the target of anti-Semitic tirades by another streamer. In her recent stream on Wednesday, Eris explained that another streamer specifically targeted her and disregarded her Jewish heritage, accusing her of being responsible for Apartheid despite Eris being a child at the time. This streamer then proceeded to go onto another’s stream and repeated the offensive and prejudiced commentary there.
Describing her first impressions of the platform’s potential for hate, Eris explained how she expected the attacks, but strives to maintain her identity as a Jewish woman, saying:
I knew I'd get antisemitism, it's why I used to be quiet about being jewish but I told myself when I streamed I wouldn't live my life in fear. So I made the very intentional decision of being open about it, and I was expecting hate, it's one of the major reasons I chose to use an avatar to be anonymous and protect myself.
Eris’ concerns don’t exist in a vacuum. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and combats anti-Semitism, reported that 8 percent or 2.3 million Canadians harbored some form of anti-Semitic views in 2019, with a quarter saying that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the country they live in.”
Around the world, anti-Semitism has been weaponized with the rise of the internet, with many countries struggling to restrain its impact. In Austria, anti-Semitic abuse has increased, following a familiar trend of prejudice that seems to be spreading across the world. Such a rise has resulted in some efforts by social media platforms to curtail anti-Semitism and hate more generally. Twitter announced that it would ban Holocaust denial, partially because of the rising tide of anti-Semitic hatred on its platform. Indeed, the ADF reported that between 2017 and 2018, 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were spread on the site. And that only includes the ones written in English.
Despite its attempts to restrain the rising hatred against Jewish creators, Twitch’s enforcement remains insufficient for creators like Eris. Though expecting the hostility, the lack of inaction has been deafening to creators like her, as she takes great pains to avoid bringing unnecessary hostility to the platform. Meanwhile, she says, Twitch is unwilling to act with such concerns in mind.
“My biggest issue has been the lack of action in regards to streamers doxxing, making death threats, and promoting harassment towards other streamers. They need to decide if this is the kind of content they want to profit off of and support.”
Though this concern has been raised before with Twitch, it remains unclear if the efforts to demand change will be successful, as there is what Eris describes as a “financial incentive structure” the promotes and perpetuates a culture of toxicity online. The more hostile and prejudiced the audience, the more viewers they can gain.
In addition to the consistent problems coming from her harassers, Eris also notes the lack of support from left-wing commentators on Twitch, with whom she shares ideas, albeit with some disagreement. Frustrated from the lack of pushback from left-wing circles against this hatred, Eris explained that:
“I knew antisemitism was on the rise, but seeing how mainstream and accepted it has become, especially while hiding under "woke" terminology just feels particularly gross. That terminology is valid and is being used as a weapon against the very people it was supposed to protect. I was literally told to ‘go back where I came from’ and few leftists batted an eye.”
The harassment is made all the more worse for Eris by the fact that she has dedicated videos and streams to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which already provokes immense hatred online.
The pain that comes with it is generational for Eris, whose grandparents were victims of the Holocaust. This, of course, culminates with the fact that she began her online career debating Holocaust deniers to prevent them from spreading their ideas. Although she no longer does so. The attacks serve as a suppressing force, as they seek to silence Jewish creators. This inevitably results in content creators like Eris feeling “… uncomfortable” and serves as an example as to “ why there are so few Jewish and other minority streamers on Twitch.”
All of this comes as a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. where Twitch is based. In 2015, the most recent date of observed data available for the U.S., the ADF reported that 10 percent of Americans held some form of anti-Semitic attitudes. Indeed, 33 percent of respondents said that Jews were more loyal to Israel than the country in which they resided.
Among religious-based hate crime victims, Jews ranked among the highest in 2018, a trend that goes back to at least 2015. In 2015, 51.3 percent of all religious-based hate crimes were committed against Jews. Although it is worth noting the FBI does not examine hate crimes on the basis of ethnic hatred towards Jews.
Such violence inevitably demands a reaction to prevent further violence and hatred. For creators like Eris, the responsibility for stopping the rising tide lies with the sites and services that platform the hate and that listening to Jewish creators would be a step in the right direction.
“I wish mainstream platforms would start to be aware of the rising rate of antisemitism, and stop ignoring our issues because of false notions that "antisemitism is over". Hate crimes against Jews have been the most common type of hate crime in the US for 5 years, it’s about time people started taking the issue seriously.”
While it is unclear if the major platforms are listening, some leaders are. After the Tree of Life shooting, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, have begun encouraging others to join them in signing the Mayors United Against Antisemitism statement, a document that now holds almost 600 signatures from local leaders across the United States. While local leaders are taking the initiative, federal leaders will likely have to address the problem as well. Still, without adequate enforcement of anti-hate policies online, the violence and vitriol will continue, putting people like Eris and her colleagues at risk for the mere act of existing freely.