October 20, 2023

Fighting Hitler-Inspired Jew-Hatred On the Digital Frontlines

As the war between Israel and Hamas rages on, prompting expressions of Jew-hatred both online and offline, an old antisemitic classic is back on social media: Hitler.

Early on Saturday morning on October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists entered Israel from Gaza and proceeded to brutally attack, kidnap, and slaughter more than 1,400 people of all ages. Following this atrocity, Israel launched Operation Iron Swords. Several days later, Israel declared war with Hamas. Since then, hundreds of innocent civilians on both sides have been killed.

The unfolding events have been so outrageous that even online communities aimed at spreading hate are deeply divided on best practices. Some chose to justify, glorify, and celebrate the civilian massacre, or even call for more violence. Others began raising suspicion on the scope of the Hamas attack, and even denying that the massacre took place. But what continues to be the case, with far-reaching and harmful consequences, is the information war being battled out online.

CyberWell on the Digital Frontlines

Since the initial terror attack, CyberWell has been hard at work monitoring, reporting, analyzing, and escalating through our Trusted Flaggers partnerships the hateful, harmful, and policy-violating content surging on social media. This content includes graphic content, incitement to violence, misinformation, and digital harassment that is retraumatizing victims through the weaponization of social media.

While a larger report is forthcoming, one recent event in particular triggered a cascade of virulent antisemitism online: the terrible tragedy of the explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City.

Based on claims from Hamas and the Gaza Health Ministry, news outlets initially reported the explosion as an Israeli airstrike, though Israel denied the allegation. Online, there was an outpouring of rage directed at Israel — even going so far as to call for and justify violence against not just Israelis, but Jews everywhere.

Several days later, independent experts concluded that the damage was caused by a failed Islamic Jihad missile. But the repercussions of this viral surge of disinformation are far-reaching. Online, social media users continue to place blame squarely on Israel’s shoulders, with many calling for death to Jews, while offline antisemitic hate crimes have peaked, protesters have come out in force, and peace talks have been canceled.

As CyberWell’s data continues to demonstrate, when Israel is in the news, and especially when Israel is engaged in conflict, the mask slips. Many of those claiming to be critical of Israel but not antisemitic shift from blurred lines into clear-eyed, outright Jew-hatred.

Right now, directly as a result of the ongoing conflict and the misinformation campaign regarding the hospital explosion, an old antisemitic classic is taking center stage: Hitler.

Online Jew-Haters Fondly Reflect on Hitler

Through our social listening tools, in the two weeks following the October 7 massacre by Hamas, CyberWell detected a 1,600% surge in the English hashtag #HitlerWasRight with a potential reach of 25 million users on X (formerly Twitter) alone. [1] 

In comparison, during the two weeks prior, #HitlerWasRight had a potential reach of “just” 300,000.

Graph showing the English hashtag #Hitlerwasright and the same phrase in Arabic spiking just after October 17

For those who read our focused report following Ye’s (formerly Kanye West) antisemitic tirade last October 2022, you’ll recall that #HitlerWasRight experienced another renaissance back then as well. Following our report to what was then Twitter, we observed a 91% drop in use of this hashtag — signifying that it was indeed de-amplified, though not removed (freedom of speech, not freedom of reach, right, Elon?).

To further cast doubt on the efficacy of de-amplification over removal, in the two weeks leading up to October 7, our tools detected just 3 posts with the phrase in Arabic, هتلر كان على حق [Hitler was right], with a reach of 146k.

Between October 7-24, the number of posts increased by 29,000%, with a potential reach of 465,000 people.

Furthermore, on October 17 and 18 alone, and following the hospital explosion, this Arabic phrase saw a spike of 146%.

Those familiar with our work also know that we repeatedly call out the disparity between the moderation of English and Arabic content.

We therefore looked to CyberWell’s monitoring technology, where our AI flags posts that it recognizes as highly likely to be antisemitic, and compared the prevalence of the word Hitler in English and in Arabic.

While the number of posts in English increased by 32%, the numbers themselves are relatively consistent. But when we analyzed posts mentioning Hitler in Arabic — “هتلر” — there is an increase of 1,483%.

By allowing these hateful hashtags and phrases to remain online, they were lying in wait, ready to jump back into play and attack the Jewish people at the first sign of the next major global event involving Jews of any nationality.

Below is a breakdown of some of the types of Holocaust glorification, justification, and references to Hitler that CyberWell identified.

Holocaust Justification

NOTE: “Yahoodi” is the word for “Jew” or “Jewish” in several languages.

Hitler Was Right

Calling for the Return of Hitler or a New Hitler

Calling for Genocide Against the Jewish People

Hitler Left Jews Alive to Prove His Point

A quote attributed to Hitler is also making the rounds. There are several versions, but the main theme is that Hitler supposedly said he would leave some Jews alive so that, in the future, everyone would understand why he killed them. Some quotes claim that his aim was to kill 90% and leave 10% alive. Others add on that Hitler said that the world would wish he had killed all the Jews, or alternatively, would be angry at him for leaving some Jews alive.

NOTE: #HitlerWasRight

Negligence Leads to Violence

The narratives in these posts are nothing new. Rather, they are the same patterns that CyberWell sees year-round, simply repackaged to fit current events. Last October #HitlerWasRight gained in popularity in support of Ye, and today it is being used as psychological warfare against the Jewish people during the Israel-Hamas war.

Had platforms like X actioned the insights that we provide on an ongoing basis and implemented them at scale, then further committed to monitoring for and removing policy-violating content, we would be in a much better situation. Instead, these platforms are complicit in the re-traumatization, harassment, and campaign of violence against the Jewish people that we see today.

Aside from the psychological damage, Jews around the globe are already feeling the violent consequences of social media disinformation and hate campaigns reflected in the real world, with synagogues firebombed in Berlin and torched in Tunisia. We saw similar real-world hate crimes surge following Ye’s tirades as we’re seeing now. Anti-Jewish hate crimes continue to top the FBI’s list of hate crimes committed against a religious group.

Social media companies have a moral imperative to enforce their own policies and remove and block hateful and harmful content. In a world where 24-hour news and access to social media create a demand for up-to-date news in real-time, we must hold platforms — and mainstream media — to account.

As mentioned on BBC: “Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has accused broadcasters covering the Israel/Gaza conflict of trying to ‘outpace’ social media by rushing out news before it has been verified. He told the Commons: ‘The days of breaking news on those traditional platforms is long in the past. They should focus on accuracy rather than pace because their words have impact here in the UK and around the world.’”

The urge to get the scoop does not legitimize spreading fake news, and serving as a stage manager demands that you keep your actors in line.

There is no excuse for inciting violence against and murder of the Jewish people, or any group of people, and CyberWell will continue to put pressure on the platforms, call out their complicity and negligence in the spread of hate, and hold them to account.

Our Response to the Emergent Crisis

Since the massacre on October 7, CyberWell has submitted six reports to social media platforms alerting them to emergent trends and patterns, and has used our Trusted Flagger status to report harmful and violating content.

Join us on the digital frontlines by reporting hateful content you see, both to the platforms themselves and through our online antisemitism reporting platform. We review and analyze the posts and escalate them through the proper channels as needed.

In this extremely difficult and painful moment for Israel and the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people, CyberWell mourns the victims, holds hope for the hostages and injured, and looks forward to a better future for all.

Footnote

[1] Absolute numbers of posts may represent samples identified by social listening tools, or the number of posts identified by CyberWell’s AI monitoring technology as highly likely to be antisemitic.

“Potential reach” of key words or phrases is calculated through our social listening tools, which track forums and some social media platforms, based on a sample of posts with high engagement. These numbers offer an indication of pattern shifts but are not absolute.

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