A new generation of users of “younger” social media platforms such as TikTok are being introduced to antisemitic ideas they would be unlikely to encounter elsewhere, warns a report.
The research comes amid warnings that those drawn into conspiracy theories around Covid-19 are at risk of adopting antisemitic views.
It found that Google searches in the UK for “New World Order”, a conspiracy theory rooted in antisemitic tropes, which suggests that a secret global elite is controlling world events, reached their highest level for 15 years in March last year.
The analysis by the campaign group Hope Not Hate and other organisations also revealed the prevalence of antisemitic messages and memes on Instagram, where almost 70% of global users are aged between 13 and 34, and TikTok, where 69% of users are between 16 and 24 years old.
Millions of results on Instagram for hashtags relating to the New World Order and the Illuminati were recorded, the majority of which promoted conspiracy theories, while hashtags leading more directly to antisemitic content, such as #JewWorldOrder, continued to be active.
Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope Not Hate, said: “The reality is that a lack of action from technology platforms has not only introduced people to hate speech but has now created online spaces where antisemitism is allowed to flourish with tragic and long-lasting effects, leaving Jewish communities exposed to the risk of terrorism.”
The research, entitled Antisemitism in the Digital Age: Online Antisemitic Hate, Holocaust Denial, Conspiracy Ideologies and Terrorism in Europe, was compiled by Hope Not Hate alongside two other anti-racism groups, the Expo Foundation and the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.
It warns that many antisemitic narratives, hashtags, memes, videos, and groups that emerged during the pandemic remain on some platforms and were often also “algorithmically amplified”.
“Social networks have therefore taken on the function of conveying antisemitic stereotypes to younger user groups,” it added.
Daniel Poohl, chief executive officer of Expo Foundation, said there were still basic things that most of the platforms highlighted could do, such as explicitly banning antisemitism in their community guidelines and ensuring greater page moderation.
In other findings, a Reddit forum dedicated to conspiracy theories and featuring antisemitic theories such as those presenting Jews as child murderers, was seen to have grown by 500,000 users between February and November 2020.
On another platform favoured by many activist groups and others, Telegram, a channel promoting the New World Order conspiracy theory as well as Holocaust denial and white nationalist propaganda grew by 90,000 followers since its inception in February 2021.
The findings on online antisemitism comes against the backdrop of continued heightened concern about its impact on the streets and a number of prosecutions of far-right supporters on terror-related charges.
Britain’s Community Security Trust, which assists with the security of the Jewish community, said last month that it had recorded 1,308 anti-Jewish hate incidents nationwide in the first half of this year, the highest total in the first half of any year.
“Every day we are being contacted by Jewish people telling us they’re getting verbally abused on the streets, someone has tried to beat them up or reporting incidents like antisemitic graffiti,” added Dave Rich, who provided the Guardian with details of some of the incidents reported this week.
Saturday: Two synagogues in London received abusive emails telling them to “go back to Auschwitz”.
Tuesday: Two assaults in London of visibly Jewish people, who were both punched to the ground by different random passersby.
Wednesday: A woman in London was walking her child home from school when a man cycled past and shouted: “Heil Hitler, you dirty Jew.”
“This is, sadly, fairly normal, and the week isn’t over yet,” he added.
A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said antisemitism was completely unacceptable and it did not allow it anywhere on Instagram.
“We’ve always removed attacks against people based on their religion, and last year we made important updates to our policies, to remove any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, as well as more implicit hate speech, such as harmful stereotypes that Jewish people control the world,” they added.
“We’ll continue to work with partners like Hope Not Hate, while developing new ways to remove hateful content and block harmful hashtags more quickly.”
A TikTok spokesperson said the company condemned antisemitism and worked aggressively to combat hate by proactively removing accounts and content that violate our policies.
“We will keep strengthening our tools for fighting antisemitic content and welcome the opportunity to work with Hope Not Hate, as we already do with many others around the world, to understand evolving trends and help us to regularly evaluate and improve our policies and enforcement processes.”
Reddit and Telegram have been approached for comment.