Hate speech spreading on social media

Social media is responsible for the spread of hate speech.

Sabine von Mering and Monika Hubscher have published a new book together, “antisemitism on social media.” It comes after a year in which the Anti-Defamation League received the most reports of anti-Semitic incidents in its history. It also comes at a time when, they say, social media sites aren’t doing enough to address hate speech.

“The problem is that technology rewards negativity,” von Mering said. “When you think about how much material is being posted all the time, in many languages, I mean it’s ridiculous. Kids are often users of TikTok, right? And they may not even be aware that something is anti-Semitic. Maybe they find something funny and share it. And it’s coming back through the algorithms, showing that to millions.”

In a recent study, researchers at Center to Combat Digital Hate reported hundreds of posts on major social platforms that they said contained “anti-Jewish hate.” Five out of six were not mined.

It’s not just anti-Jewish speech that’s being promoted. That Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that each platform had publicly committed to protecting LGBTQ+ users. The platforms also failed to moderate their content.

Rachel Carroll Rivas, who works for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says it’s easy for someone to engage in hate speech at first and then be inundated with it.

“It’s really starting to flow where that content is exactly what they’re seeing more and more of every day,” Rivas said. “It allows for a sort of echo chamber and people who aren’t being scrutinized by their peers, by their family members, what they see, what they consume, and then of course what they spend back into the world.”

Judging by the numbers, it looks daunting. A study measured a 28% increase in hate speech between 2019 and 2021, including a 22% increase in discussions of violent threats. A second study found that more than a third of adult Americans have experienced serious online harassment. A third study found that an increase in hate tweets can even be caused by extreme temperatures.

It’s easy not to want to fight such a rising tide. But that’s where those who study it disagree.

“Think about it: this was the first time anyone had put a book together about it. We urgently need more research,” said von Mering. “It’s something that requires a lot more attention from everyone.”

Rivas adds: “Each of us has a role, and there may well be a role for us to make a change.”