Online Antisemitism 2.0. “Social Antisemitism” on the “Social Web”

, April 1, 2008

No. 67,

 

  • Around 2004, changes in technology created Web 2.0.[1] As technology adapted, so did online antisemitism. With the new “social web” came a new “social antisemitism.” This Antisemitism 2.0 is the use of online social networking and content collaboration to share demonization, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and classical antisemitic motifs with a view to creating social acceptability for such content.
  • This phenomenon is spreading antisemitism and acceptability of antisemitism in new and increasingly effective ways. Social pressures are key to understanding Antisemitism 2.0, which is a combination of the technology and the emerging social environment.
    The main threat posed by Web 2.0 to the Jewish people and their supporters is the creation of a culture where antisemitism has social acceptability, particularly among young people, resulting in the lowering of resistance and the establishment of hate networks.
  • To challenge Antisemitism 2.0, the Jewish community must as a strategy begin to engage online as an online community made up of individuals and organizations. The community has the talent to combat antisemitism online, but only if it is recognized, trained, funded, and given a shared sense of ownership in the fight against this newest manifestation of antisemitism.

Around 2004, changes in technology created Web 2.0, the social web where users, not publishers, create the content.[2] As technology adapted, so did online antisemitism. With the new “social web” came a new “social antisemitism,” an Antisemitism 2.0. This phenomenon is spreading antisemitism and acceptability of antisemitism in new and increasingly effective ways.

Hereinafter two examples are presented in detail, followed by a discussion of the various applications, their significance, and a survey of the most prominent cases of antisemitism across a range of technologies. Given the impact on society of Web 2.0, antisemitism in this arena cannot be ignored for long. Jews need to develop an effective community-based strategy to counter a new wave of hate and its push for social acceptability in the new social web.

The Nature of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is about sharing. It is often referred to as the “interactive web” or the “social web.” Web 2.0 websites – also known as Web 2.0 applications – are content and creativity driven. They often involve collaborative development and are based on the concept of a community of users and the provision of ways for members of this community to interact with each other. Some Web 2.0 applications have a shared store of community-owned content; others allow members of the community to have their own content and share it. In both cases the essence of Web 2.0 is “sharing” rather than a traditional model of knowledge transmission from an authoritative source.[3]

Where the web allowed information to transcend borders, in the new Web 2.0 world, it is social networks and ideals that are able to expand across geographic boundaries. Language remains a barrier, but within a language group culture and values are renegotiated to form new community norms.

The content in Web 2.0 can take almost any form. These include videos, images, photos, stories, opinions, knowledge, geography, events, causes (i.e., campaigns), and bookmarks (or favorites). If the content can be shared with others, and these others can either alter it or share their own versions, then the content can be supported by a Web 2.0 application.

By allowing everyone to be a content publisher, and everyone to be a content critic, Web 2.0 promotes the idea of multiple narratives rather than the quest for a single truth. Where it makes a choice between these narratives, promoting some and hiding others, this is done by pure democracy. The community gets the truth it already believes.

Social pressure in Web 2.0 exists in both explicit and implicit forms. Explicit social pressure can be applied through moderation and removal of rights when community norms are breached, through to temporary or permanent exclusion from the community if the offender persists in the behavior.

In a community built on trust and sharing, being censored or excluded is a serious consequence. Implicit pressure includes actual and perceived peer pressure from other members of the online community: “What will people think if I am the only one of my friends not to support this campaign?” or inversely, “What will they think if I am the only one to support this cause?” Such pressures directly mirror those that are found in a university environment and can be used for good or ill.
Although the pressure against racism in general is very real, so is the pressure of antisemitism. When these pressures collide, there is often an attempt to reframe antisemitism as something other than a form of racism. When successful, this allows a community to be both antiracist-by their own definition-and antisemitic. These social pressures are key to understanding antisemitism in Web 2.0, and foster a new type of antisemitism – referred to here as Antisemitism 2.0 – which is a combination of the technology and the emerging social environment.

Definition of Antisemitism 2.0

Antisemitism 2.0 is the use of online social networking and content collaboration to share demonization, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and classical antisemitic motifs with a view to creating social acceptability for such content. Either Jews in general or the Jewish state may be targeted in Antisemitism 2.0, and often the distinction between Israel and Jews is lost. Antisemitism specifically related to Israel is commonly perpetrated by making comparisons between Israel and popular paradigms of evil, the two classic cases being Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. The comparison with the Nazis has the added antisemitic value to its perpetrators of inverting the Holocaust.[4]

This definition of Antisemitism 2.0 builds upon the Working Definition of Antisemitism propounded by the EU’s European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC),[5] but takes into account the social and collaborative nature of Web 2.0. The agenda of Antisemitism 2.0 is not simply about promoting ideas. Rather, it is about discussing them and thereby conferring on them legitimacy as one “possible truth” among the many narratives that exist. Whether it is an aim or a side effect, Antisemitism 2.0 is leading to a blurring of boundaries in common discourse. What in the mainstream-media era was clearly viewed as offensive is now so prevalent that it is increasingly gaining acceptability.

On the web, antisemitic ideas could be published and read around the world. Now in the Web 2.0 world, the social acceptability of antisemitism can be spread, public resistance lowered, and hate networks rapidly established. Such hate networks are not underground affairs, but instead are often public with overlapping membership in many other online social groups. It is in this way that antisemitism spreads between communities.

Another facet of Antisemitism 2.0 is misinformation aimed at enabling the antisemite to dismiss claims of racism and instead regard him/herself as a victim. In Antisemitism 2.0 an “infected” person, who has absorbed antisemitic content, will also have absorbed instructions that encourage him to turn on the community’s defense mechanism. Not only is the hate allowed in, but the infected person – the antisemite – is now prepared to accuse any who correct him of “playing the antisemitic card” to stifle debate.

Thus, infected persons resist any attempt to cure them of this antisemitic illness and encourage others to accept their position as valid and to attack their accusers. This promotes the acceptability of antisemitism as no less than another legitimate viewpoint. In the specific case of New Antisemitism (that which relates to Israel), David Hirsh has dubbed this the “Livingstone Formulation” after its effective use by the mayor of London.[6]

Detailed Examples

Each of the following two subsections presents a detailed example. The first is from a group on the popular social-networking site Facebook. The second relates to Google Earth. These two examples both involve user-created content, but are otherwise very different in outlook. On Facebook each user or group can say what they like and all opinions are representative only of the author or the group’s administrators. By contrast, in the Google Earth example users can make their own content, but there is also a core layer of basic information. This provides an edited, “factual” content basis compared to Facebook’s spaces for pure opinion. The two environments lead to very different styles of Antisemitism 2.0 and require different responses.

Case 1: The “Israel is not a state” Facebook Group

Facebook is a popular social-networking site. It is, after google.co.uk, the most popular website in the UK. In the United States it ranks fifth. The site includes a function known as “groups” that users can create and join.

The group proclaiming “‘Israel’ is not a country!… delist it from Facebook as a country!” is an example of an antisemitic group on Facebook. It has 32,596 members.[7] If one imagines that each of these people has an average of 150 friends – 150 to 200 would be more accurate[8] – then this group will have been advertised to about 4.9 million people. The “not a country” group has a description that is roughly half antisemitism and half denial of its antisemitic nature. This is evident in the first paragraph:

This group does not attack any groups or individuals. Our goal is to reach a peaceful solution. It simply states that “Israel” is presently an apartheid regime. This group strongly condemns racism and does not tolerate it. Criticism of illegitimate apartheid-”Israel,” which has no right to exist, cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic, even according to the international working definition of anti-Semitism that was accepted and adopted in 2005.

The passage mixes two antisemitic assertions with three claims against racism. An international working definition of antisemitism is adduced as proof of the non-antisemitism of the group. The definition is incorrectly introduced as international (it is European) and is not quoted, linked to, or properly referenced. This makes it difficult for casual readers to verify this claim, forcing them to accept or reject it at face value.

The two examples of antisemitism are the demonization of Israel as an apartheid state and the denial of Israel’s right to exist. The EU definition lists as one form of antisemitism “denying the Jewish people their right to self­-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”[9] Other examples of antisemitism can be found throughout the text. These include the idea that most “Arabs are Semites… unlike most Jews, who are mainly Europeans and Americans” and that “European Zionists” are the real antisemites while Arabs suffer from antisemitism.

In addition to hijacking the term antisemitism, the opening paragraph of “Israel is not a state” charges that Zionists falsely claim antisemitism was intended only against Jews and that “anyone with an elementary education” would know “anti” is nothing but a prefix. There were also attempts to rewrite the definition of antisemitism in Wikipedia and there was a proliferation of this argument on web-based student forums. [10] Another popular claim seen on student forums is that Ashkenazi Jews are Europeans who converted to Judaism and are not really “Semites.”

The group tries to separate Judaism and Israel. It declares that Zionism is against the Jewish religion. Links are provided to four sites associated with anti-Zionist Jewish groups including multiple sites of the Neturei Karta sect. Reference is also made to Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry along with a commentary that “its [sic] very ironic to hear ‘Israelis’ doing and saying the same things as the Nazis.” The group also links to a large number of anti-Israeli (and often antisemitic) websites.

Such a site can be advertised to something like 4.9 million people, many of them ignorant about Judaism, Zionism, and Israel. This is only one group on Facebook and the message may well be ignored the first few times it is presented. Repeated often enough it may become accepted by many as popular truth.

Case 2: Creating Palestine in Google Earth

Google Earth is an application that “combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world’s geographic information at your fingertips.”[11] The site allows users to help build up the database of knowledge by adding information to geographic sites that can include text, photographs, and website links. Information can either be stored in the core layer (which all users see) or in additional layers that users download separately. Custom layers function like a transparency with additional markings that can be placed over the map.

For geographic information, a comparison can be drawn between Google Earth and the online MSN Encarta encyclopedia. Encarta is a website that is not Web 2.0 based. All articles are written by experts and checked by editors. The result, for example, is the label “West Bank (Disputed)” near Hebron. By contrast, Google Earth simply sees the area as the “West Bank.” In Google Earth there is an active project to create a virtual Palestine superimposed on Israel. This effort is linked to a campaign known as “Palestine Remembered,” and each “destroyed Palestinian village” placed in Israel on Google Earth provides information that links to their site.

The text provided for each Palestinian village gives its name and says, “This is one of the Palestinian localities evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. For basic information about this locality, including brief history, the 1948 events, its current status, pictures and statistics, visit: www.palestineremembered.com.”

Whereas a Palestine “layer” in Google Earth, an optional extra that people could download, would be acceptable, in this instance these locations, along with the reference to the website, have been merged into the core layer. That is, this political message is given the same status of essential information as the existence of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This is a form of geographic replacement and an establishment of “facts on the ground.” For those who will not physically visit Israel these facts on this virtual ground are real. It is to be expected that people will form their opinion on the right to land in this area based on information sources such as Google Earth.

This replacement geography has been occurring in the real world with the destruction of Jewish artifacts at the Temple Mount.[12] It has already occurred previously in Google Earth, for example, when the Temple Mount – (annexed to Israel) – was placed in “Occupied Territory.”[13] In addition, the narrative of Israeli aggression and ethnic cleansing, an aspect of Antisemitism 2.0, is spread via the text and link provided on each geographic location.

The “Palestine remembered” site, linked to by each location, has over six thousand members. It includes such information on Palestine as “a quiz on Israeli democracy,” “Zionist Frequently asked questions,” “Famous Zionist quotes,” “Israel’s right to be racist,” “Nakba deniers explained,” and “Zionism and its impact for beginners.” The site promotes a narrative of ethnic cleansing as Israeli policy. It includes quotes from Israeli and Zionist leaders on a page of “Apartheid & Racist Attitudes-Zionist Quotes.” The Labor Zionist ideals of a Jewish workforce are described as anti-Arab racism. Jewish leaders’ expressions of concern for equal treatment of Arabs is presented as evidence of inherent Zionist racism. The very ideal of Zionism is presented as a racist endeavor.

Not all the people who wander into the “virtual Palestine” created in Google Earth will end up seeing these pages. Yet, in any case, people looking at Israel in Google Earth should see what is actually there, not a Palestinian narrative of replacement geography. Links should not be added to the core layer without some sort of quality control being implemented. This editorial control and differentiation between general user content and authorized core content should distinguish Google Earth from other Web 2.0 applications. Such quality control is not in evidence at present, at least not in this geographic region. As noted in the Jerusalem Post, “only in Israel do GE users find blatantly political opinions, mostly favoring the Palestinian point of view.”[14] If the core layer is used differently in Israel and in the rest of the world, that itself is an application of double standards and antisemitic in result if not in intent.

Web 2.0 Applications and Their Impact

In addition to Facebook and Google Earth, Web 2.0 includes sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Del.icio.us, Blogger, Reddit, Beebo, Wikipedia, Myspace, and some would include Ebay and Amazon (though their primary revenue is not a result of user-generated content). Many online newspapers that allow comments to be added to articles also fall under the Web 2.0 banner, for example, the Guardian’s “Comment Is Free.” It is worth focusing on Facebook, YouTube, and Google Earth in more detail.

Facebook

Facebook is a social networking site. It spreads in a viral-like way as users add their friends. This is evident in Israel where the number of users has grown exponentially in recent months.[15] [16] Information on Facebook also spreads in a viral fashion. Users join groups, write messages to mutual friends, and support campaigns, and their activities are broadcast to their friends who may then take similar action. Facebook informs someone how many of their friends have joined a group or cause and the result can create social pressure. Groups in Facebook have also created public pressure; in one example a bank in the United Kingdom reversed a policy decision after four thousand students joined a Facebook group as a protest.[17]

Facebook was originally limited to certain groups of people, but in September 2006 registration opened to all.[18] Privacy settings allow friends and people in organizational or geographic proximity greater access to a person’s details. These privacy settings can be altered, and given the extent of personal information shared through the site the default settings are increasingly raising the concern of privacy advocates.[19]

Facebook is not just for students. Jack Flanagan, executive vice-president of comScore Media Matrix who specialize in measuring the internet, explained that “there is a misconception that social networking is the exclusive domain of teenagers…the appeal of social networking sites is far broader.”[20] The fastest-growing age group for Facebook is the 25+ group.[21] An August 2006 study showed that 33.5% of Facebook users were in the 35-54 age range; only 34% were aged 18-24[22] (the original “college-age” target audience of Facebook).

Some relevant facts:

Facebook is three years old and has over sixty million users.[23]

In the last year Facebook grew from 0.2% of the total daily page views on the internet to 2.2%.

The user base grew on average by 3% a week, or 250,000 per day.[24]

It is the fifth most popular site on the internet.[25]

In October 2007 a small fraction (1.6%) of Facebook was sold to Microsoft for $240 million (placing a total value on Facebook of $15 billion).[26]

YouTube

 YouTube is an online video-sharing application. It allows users to upload their videos, view other people’s videos, comment on and discuss videos, join groups, and designate people as friends so they can view “private” videos.
Videos can also be rated in YouTube, and the site provides a search function using description and title information. Once a video has been selected, similar videos are also suggested.

The average age of American online video viewers is 39, and people aged 35-64 account for 48-65% of YouTube’s audience.[27] In a period of one month (September 2007), almost 40% of Americans on the internet watched a YouTube video.[28]

Some relevant facts:

In one month almost seventy million used YouTube.[29]

In one month 2.5 billion videos were watched on YouTube.[30]

Each day about 17.7% of all internet users are visiting YouTube.[31]

In the last year it grew from 1.2% of the total daily web hits to 3.8%.[32]

It is the third most popular site on the internet.[33]

Last year it was sold to Google for $1.65 billion in stock.[34]

Google Earth

Google Earth uses satellite imagery combined with maps, terrain, and 3D buildings to present the earth at various levels of magnification. A number of core details, such as geography, place details, pictures, and so on, are included with the download of Google Earth. Other contributions can be added using custom “layers” downloaded separately. The layers can be placed over the map in a similar way to placing a plastic transparency (with additional markings) over a paper map. Details from the user community are sometimes integrated into the core layer.

The Google Earth website was the eighth most searched-for website in the UK at the start of 2006.[35] In addition to the regular searches, Google Earth has been used by campaign groups to raise public awareness. Examples include grassroots environmental campaigns against deforestation; the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), which has a layer showing large-scale environmental and socioeconomic shifts; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has a layer on the Darfur crisis (the first layer in the Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative); and many smaller local projects. These projects have all been based on additional layers that users can download separately,[36] which puts them in a very different category from the virtual Palestine project discussed above.

Some relevant facts:

In 2006 there were thirty thousand software developers working with Google Earth.[37]

Almost 25% of users in 2006 were over age 55.[38]

The user base in June 2007 was two hundred million,[39] having doubled in ten months.[40]

In 2007 a popular blog on Google Earth received 5.8 million unique viewers.[41]

The Significance of Web 2.0

One common misconception by organizations is that Web 2.0 is a fad. Although some applications may come and go, the underlying concepts will remain. The way email style differs from conventional mail was already obvious in the 1970s.[42] Although the email software has changed, the social norms that were established at the start continue. Now is therefore the time to set standards in Web 2.0; to establish that social antisemitism is as unacceptable in Web 2.0 as it is in other channels of social discourse. Regardless of what happens with particular sites, the concept of social networking and the norms established will persist.

A Systematic Approach to Monitoring Antisemitism 2.0

Most people who encounter online antisemitism are probably not looking for it. JewWatch,[43] labeled an “antisemitic and racist organization” by Attorney-General Jay Nixon of Missouri,[44] would not receive so much publicity if it were not one of the first results yielded by a Google search on the word “Jew”. It is this repeated “accidental” encountering of antisemitism that leads to creeping social acceptance.

JewWatch is an old-fashioned website, but Web 2.0 services allow similar searches, with similar-if less startling-results. Here the focus is on manifestations of New Antisemitism and specifically on the search results for “Israel,” “Zionism,” and “apartheid.”

Facebook Antisemitism

In the Israel network the top seven results in a search for “Zionism” show groups with a Palestinian flag as their logo, and a copy of the text from the above-discussed “Israel is not a state” Facebook group. The duplicated text again links to various anti-Israeli and antisemitic sites. There are currently seventy-five groups that have been taken over in this way, ranging from birthright Israel groups to movie-appreciation groups. They have all been taken over by the same person who remains as the new owner of these groups. Some original members remain in the groups and have failed to notice the change.

A global search shows the group “Anti-Zionism” at the top of the list with 666 members. The group begins by saying it is for “anyone who is against the systematic oppression and aggressive imperialism of the Zionist regime. We are not anti-semitic in any way, shape, or form and we are not calling for the destruction of Israel.” It then shows four images, one of which is a graphic photograph of the result of a suicide bombing.

The group’s main image is of Neturei Karta UK. Also on page 1 is the group “Arab Americans Anti-Zionism Movement,” where many links to Neturei Karta YouTube videos have been posted. Another group called “We are against Zionism” is almost entirely in Arabic. It includes graphic images of dead babies. Beyond page 1 are groups promoting conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination, media domination, a fan club for Norman Finkelstein, a group praising Ahmadinejad, and a group describing Israel as a Nazi state.

The “Nazi Israel Must Go!” group uses the same approach. It begins with: “this group does not attack any groups or individuals. It simply states that ‘Israel’ is a Nazi State…. Criticism of racist apartheid ‘Israel’ cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic….” The group proceeds to draw comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. It does not reiterate the anti-Zionist text in the preceding group, but includes its own set of links to videos and websites. Noam Chomsky, George Galloway, Norman Finkelstein, and Carlos Latuff are all featured.

A search for “apartheid” brings up mainly anti-Israeli material. The top group is “Educate yourself and the masses about the Illegal Apartheid in Palestine.” The group claims “Anti-Semitism is not Anti-Jewish” and that “the term [antisemitism] itself is put into use by Zionists only to delegitimize those who question or deny the Holocaust and those who criticize the atrocities committed by the Israeli government and wish for the dissolvement [sic] of the state itself.” This is again the “Livingstone formulation.”[45]

In addition to denying even the possibility of Arab antisemitism, the group’s introduction rewrites history and promotes understanding of Hamas and the destruction of Israel. The group has 488 members. In addition to this site, the first page (i.e., the first ten groups) for the “apartheid” search also includes two “Apartheid Wall” groups, one “Apartheid Israel” group, and a group promoting Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. South Africa features just twice. A search through Facebook groups for “Israel” does not give problematic results, largely because there are so many legitimate Israel groups that negative material is overwhelmed.

A third-party add-in to Facebook “causes” allows users to create and join a “cause” that is similar to a Facebook group but also allows donations to be made to a charity that the “cause” has chosen to support. A search for “apartheid” shows six “causes” including “Boycott Israeli Apartheid” with 5,863 members[46] and “Cupcake Lovers Against The Israeli Colonisation of Palestine” with 212 members.[47] The “Boycott Israeli Apartheid” cause was originally raising money for Human Rights Watch. However, this connection was severed following an email sent by the author to Human Rights Watch on 2 December 2007. The use of human rights organizations to promote antisemitic demonization campaigns increases the social acceptability of antisemitism in a dramatic way and is something civil society needs to be on guard against, particularly online.

YouTube Antisemitism

In a YouTube search for “Zionism,” the first item was a video titled “Zionism vs Judaism.” The summary explains: “nkusa [link provided] speak about the differences between Zionism and the religion of Judaism. More from Jews against Zionism [link provided].” “NKusa” is the U.S. Neturei Karta site; “Jews against Zionism” is another of their sites. Before the author’s own work with the Zionism on the Web organization, these sites were both ranking on page 1 for a search on Zionism. Non- Jewish students in the UK were “learning” about Judaism and Zionism from these sites and possibly believing them to be the mainstream views of Judaism. Now Neturei Karta is spreading the same messages through Web 2.0 applications.

The second item is titled “Rabbi against Israel (Zionism).” A little further down is a video titled “Judaism vs Zionism (Truth about Zionism).” The description reads: “condemning the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism…. Zionism or Jewish National Socialism was founded by Moses Hess, who converted Marx….” Not only is there demonization regarding apartheid South Africa (described as “an unholy alliance”), there is also a direct Nazi comparison.

This antisemitism is being targeted specifically at those seeking information; it is not simply being shared among existing antisemitites.

A third video titled “Zionism and AIPAC a danger to everyone” provides a link to JewWatch. JewWatch, as alluded to above, was originally calibrated to catch people searching for the word “Jew” on Google and bring them into a site of conspiracy theories about Jewish power along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

More recently, JewWatch started targeting Zionism as well. Zionism on the Web monitored this for a number of months as JewWatch slowly changed tone to include Islamist conspiracy theories. A new section on Zionism slowly climbed the Google rankings. To combat this Zionism on the Web created a page on JewWatch that exposes its racism, which now appears near the top of page 1 for a search on JewWatch. Meanwhile JewWatch has launched into Web 2.0.

A search for “apartheid” again shows “apartheid-wall” contents on page 1. A visiting professor at Brooklyn College has a video on “Apartheid in South Africa and Israel.” It has received over 8,500 views, and many times that number will have read the title and blurb. It is less than a year old.

A search on “Israel” yields relatively good results, although in one case a song titled after the prayer “Sh’ma Israel” has a note that comments on the clip have been closed because the poster is amazed by the hatred received in comments. “It’s sick and disgusting,” he concludes.

Conclusions about Antisemitism in Web 2.0

The main threat Web 2.0 poses to the Jewish people and their supporters is the creation of a culture where antisemitism has social acceptability, particularly among young people. In such an environment, the promotion of conspiracy theories, the demonization of Jews and the Jewish state, and the use of Jews as scapegoats become a norm and may lead to real violence against the Jewish people. The concerted attempt to legitimize antisemitism, a key part of Antisemitism 2.0, attacks the defenses that society has built against racism. Not only is damage done but a layer of defense is erected against any attempt at correction. In Web 2.0 bad ideas, like good ones, can today be shared across geographic, political, and social boundaries. However, it is up to society to determine what will be deemed acceptable.

The spread of Antisemitism 2.0 relies on the ignorance of the masses, the ability to manipulate them, and the pure democracy of Web 2.0 where each uninformed opinion counts just as much as an expert’s analysis. Web 2.0 is a mass movement that lends legitimacy to the majority opinion and uses peer pressure as an effective tool against those who disagree with the consensus.

In a Web 2.0 world, information is not usually imparted directly from authority. It either arrives through social networks or is sought out directly by individuals. The search methods in Web 2.0 favor the volume of supporters of a narrative and have little relationship to the degree of truth in the narrative. As people convince themselves and take ownership of ideas, it becomes harder to change their mind. When they acquire the Antisemitism 2.0 “defenses” against correction, this becomes even harder. As David Hirsh noted, “decent anti-racists are being immunised against taking antisemitism seriously.”[48] If the antiracist campaigners can be convinced, how much greater is the risk to the general public?

Strategies and Policies to Combat Antisemitism 2.0

How can the community more effectively combat online antisemitism and particularly Antisemitism 2.0? The primary requirement of any successful strategy is that it be communitywide and community based. A strategy of cooperation between organizations and individuals is needed, along with an infrastructure to facilitate such cooperation. As the Jewish sage Hillel said two thousand years ago, “Do not separate yourself from the community; and do not trust in yourself until the day of your death.”[49] Both organizations and individuals need to take this into account, as any attempt-by either individuals or organizations-to assert dominance or authority is doomed to fail in a Web 2.0 world.

Zionism on the Web[50], an organization run through voluntary effort and with a zero budget, is able to compete with the likes of Wikipedia for rankings and prominence in Google and is often able to outrank sites such as the Israeli Foreign Ministry or the Jewish Agency. This is largely because policy prevents those large organizations from taking the “community approach.” Such policy needs to be changed. Websites funded with taxpayer or community money not only have a responsibility to provide decent resources but also a responsibility to link to, share resources with, and assist others. They must become the hubs of the virtual community, and regardless of their real-world importance, online they must re-earn their credentials though cooperation with the community. A new initiative in policy planning for the Jewish community is needed.

Participation, Copyright, and Ownership

The ranking of websites through Google is based on a similar approach to the absolute democracy of Web 2.0. Sites become popular when people link to them. A democratic approach presupposes that good material is reproduced, discussed, and linked to by the masses whereas bad material is ignored. It relies on assumptions of rational behavior by users, the ability to freely reproduce content, and-as in all democratic processes-a high and an equal level of participation.

In reality, good material is generally copyrighted and not available for reproduction and people are disinclined to provide links. This behavior may be rational but is incompatible with Web 2.0. In contrast, propaganda, antisemitism, and hate literature, which usually are copyright-free, are rapidly spread. Websites, groups, comments, and multimedia content are provided with links to negative material. Lists of links are repeatedly posted.

To respond requires a threefold approach. First, high-quality material must be made available for reproduction; second, a set of links to key resources on various topics must be shared and reproduced; and finally, the community must become more proactive active in online discussions, debates, and comments.

When providing links, it is essential that content be from a variety of sites and that each of these key sites use their influence to promote all the other sites. The list need not be exclusive, provided that key sites are included. Individuals who repost this list should feel free to add to it and adapt it. The best approach for individuals who maintain a list of links is to exchange links rather than simply adding them. That is, web publishers should agree to link to others only if those others provide a link to them in turn. When a policy that is supportive of reproduction emerges, it is the high-quality content at well-resourced community sites that will be reproduced (complete with links). The result will be an increase in influence for these providers of quality content, higher rankings in search engines, and increased traffic.

Volunteers also need to become more active on the web and in Web 2.0. Where someone has created content but does not have the ability to publish it online, the community should facilitate this. Zionism on the Web has been working to facilitating such publication, for example, through its partnership with the Six Day War project in an essay competition specifically designed to generate student content and place it online.[51] In Web 2.0, members of the community need to be encouraged to comment on blogs, post pictures and videos, and to add meaningful descriptions to their own and other people’s content. Including links is particularly important.

Conclusions

The Web and Web 2.0 are here to stay. Their influence is powerful and growing. As people begin to connect in new ways, antisemitism finds new ways of spreading. In the social web a new form of social acceptability for antisemitism is forming, an Antisemitism 2.0. This needs to be recognized, monitored, and combated. While expectations are still in flux, the wider community needs to make clear the unacceptability of antisemitism in online social engagement. The Jewish community-as the key stakeholder-needs to play a leadership role in this, not just in policy formation but also in direct engagement with the public. Now is the time to help shape the bounds of social acceptability in this new social medium.

To challenge Antisemitism 2.0, the Jewish community must begin to engage online, not as a collection of organizations but as an online community made up of individuals and organizations. The community response needs to include the exhortation of every member to take a stand and engage online. Where volume is power, leaving a response to someone else-regardless of their expertise-is counterproductive. The community has the talent to combat antisemitism online, but only if it is recognized, trained, funded, and given a shared sense of ownership in the fight against this newest manifestation of the world’s oldest hate.

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Notes

* The author wishes to thank Prof. Gerald Steinberg at Bar-Ilan University and NGO Monitor, and Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs for their support, which led to this research. Thanks are also owed to a variety of experts who helped review this article, including: Prof. Avi Silberschatz, Yale University; Prof. Richard Landes, Boston University; Dr. Danny Hughes, Mr. Kiel Gilleade, and Mr. Kris Welsh, Lancaster University; Mr. Mark Gardner, the Community Security Trust; Mr. Jonathan Hoffman; and Mr. Rufus Greenbaum.
[1] www.paulgraham.com/web20.html.
[2] Ibid.
[3] In a traditional website the authority (or lack of authority) of content could be judged by the source.
[4] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Holocaust Inversion: The Portraying of Israel and Jews as Nazis,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 55, April 2007.
[5] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” 2005, http://fra.europa.eu/fra/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf.
[6] David Hirsh, “Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections,” Working Paper Series, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, 13 December 2007, www.yale.edu/yiisa/workingpaper/hirsh/David%20Hirsh%20YIISA%20Working%20Paper1.pdf.
[7] As of 6 January 2008 this had risen 12.3% over 25 November 2007, when the group had 29,025 members.
[8] N. B. Ellison, C. Steinfield, and C. Lampe, “The Benefits of Facebook ‘Friends’: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2007), article 1, http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/ellison.html.
[9] European Union, “Working Definition.”
[10] “Antisemitism or Anti-Semitism?” Zionism on the Web, 2007, www.zionismontheweb.org/antisemitism/anti-semitism_or_antisemitism.htm.
[11] Google Earth, http://earth.google.com/ [viewed 7 January 2008].
[12] Mark Ami-El, “The Destruction of the Temple Mount Antiquities,” Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints, 483, 1 August 2002, www.jcpa.org/jl/vp483.htm.
[13] Aaron Klein, “Google Earth Map Marks Temple Mount Palestinian,” Ynet News, 16 January 2007, www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3353152,00.html.
[14] David Shamah, “Digital World: Getting Google’s Ear,” JerusalemPost, 16 October 2007.
[15] Maayan Cohen and Reuters, “Number of Israeli Facebook Members Jumps by 100% since Mid-October,” Haaretz, 11 November 2007, www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/922669.html.
[16] From 18 November 2007 (184,460) to 6 January 2008 (322,782), growth slowed to 75%.
[17] Donald MacLeod, “Students Celebrate Facebook Triumph over HSBC,” The Education Guardian, 30 August 2007, http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/finance/story/0,,2159178,00.html.
[18] Michael Arrington, “Facebook Just Launched Open Registrations,” TechCrunch, 26 September 2006, www.techcrunch.com/2006/09/26/facebook-just-launched-open-registrations/.
[19] Sharon Gaudin, “Facebook Privacy Settings Putting Users at Risk,” Information Week, 3 October 2007, www.informationweek.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=202200395.
[20] comScore Media Metrix, “More than Half of MySpace Visitors Are Now Age 35 or Older, as the Site’s Demographic Composition Continues to Shift,” 5 October 2006, www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=1019.
[21] Facebook Statistics, www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics [viewed 13 January 2008].
[22] comScore Media Metrix, “More than Half.”
[23] Facebook Statistics.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Alexa Statistics for Facebook, www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/facebook.com?q=facebook [viewed 13 January 2008].
[26] “Microsoft Buys Stake in Facebook,” BBC Online, 24 October 2007,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7061042.stm.
[27] Louis Hau, “Old People Like Web Video!” Forbes, 14 November 2006, www.forbes.com/2006/11/14/youtube-video-demographics-tech-media-cx_lh_1113webvideo.html.
[28] comScore Media Metrix, “YouTube Continues to Lead U.S. Online Video Market with 28 Percent Market Share, According to comScore Video Metrix,” 30 November 2007, www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=1929.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Alexa Statistics for YouTube, www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/youtube.com [viewed 13 January 2008].
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Google Press Centre, “Google to Acquire YouTube for $1.65 Billion in Stock,” 9 October 2006, www.google.com/press/pressrel/google_youtube.html.
[35] Quentin Reade, “Google Earth’s Popularity Booms,” Web User Magazine, 25 January 2006, www.webuser.co.uk/news/news.php?id=73488.
[36] Stefanie Olsen, “Do-Gooders Doing Google Earth,” CNET News, 7 June 2007, www.news.com/2100-1038_3-6189464.html.
[37] David Meyer, “Google, Microsoft Vie for Earth Domination,” CNET News, 12 September 2006, www.news.com/Google-and-Microsoft-vie-for-Earth-domination/2100-1032-6114828.html?part=dht&tag=nl.e433.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Olsen, “Do-Gooders.”
[40] Meyer, “Google.”
[41] Frank Taylor, “Google Earth Blog Stats for 2007,” Google Earth Blog, 4 January 2008, www.gearthblog.com/blog/archives/2008/01/google_earth_blog_stats_for_2007.html.
[42] J.C.R. Licklider; Albert Vezza, “Applications of Information Networks,” Proc. of the IEEE, Vol. 66, No. 11 (November 1978).
[43] www.zionismontheweb.org/antizionism/jewwatch.htm.
[44] www.ago.mo.gov/newsreleases/2006/102606b.htm.
[45] Hirsh, “Anti-Zionism.”
[46] As of 20 January 2008, http://apps.facebook.com/causes/view_cause/809.
[47] As of 20 January 2008, http://apps.facebook.com/causes/view_cause/1882.
[48] David Hirsh, “Tony Lerman, New Conservative, Used to Discredit Report on Antisemitism,” Engage, 3 September 2006, www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=626.
[49] Pirkei Avot 2:5.
[50] Zionism on the Web, http://www.zionismontheweb.org/.
[51] Six Day War Competition, www.zionism.me.uk/SixDayWarCompetition/.

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Dr. Andre Oboler is a postdoctoral fellow in the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He received his PhD in computer science in 2007 at Lancaster University, UK. For the last four years he has run the website “Zionism on the Web,” which actively combats and monitors online antisemitism using technological means. He is currently a Legacy Heritage Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem where he works on Web 2.0 strategies to monitor and counter bias in the NGO community.

 

About Andre Oboler

Dr. Andre Oboler is a social media expert. He holds a PhD in computer science from Lancaster University, UK, and has been a postdoctoral fellow in political science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and a Legacy Heritage Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. He edits ZionismOnTheWeb.org, a website countering online hate.