December 7, 2023

PUBG the Jews: Call to Murder Jews Trends Online

After the October 7 attack on Israel, CyberWell identified far more antisemitic content calling for violence against Jews than usual — including the phrase “PUBG the Jews.”

Following the October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists, CyberWell’s monitoring technology picked up a significant increase in antisemitic content in general, as well as an alarming shift in discourse. Prior to October 7, the vast majority — 75% — of antisemitic content we identified promoted stereotypes about Jews, such as machinations for world domination.  After October 7, 61% of vetted content called for or justified violence against Jews.[i]

One violent trend in particular went viral: the call to “PUBG the Jews.”

PUBG the Jews

PUBG refers to PUBG: Battlegrounds, a violent first-person shooter video game where players parachute onto an island, collect weapons, and shoot people.

Chillingly similar to the Nova Music Festival, where Hamas militants paraglided overhead prior to slaughtering hundreds of young festival goers, images and videos from the video game are being used interchangeably or paired with with real images of the assault – typically in celebration.

In the post above, the user calls to “open the borders” in order to “make PUBG in the Jews”. It includes a video from the PUBG game where the player is hunting people down and shooting them.

As part of our efforts to analyze antisemitic trends in real time, CyberWell looked back to the origin of “PUBG the Jews”. We found that this phrase originates from a 2020 sermon in which Mahmoud al-Hasanat, a Palestinian preacher, writer, and social media influencer, said, “They say this generation is the PUBG generation, right? But open the borders for them, and by God, they will make PUBG to the Jews.”

Following October 7, this sermon became a rallying cry to join in the violence.

In the post above, the social media user questions if the “PUBG generation” can play PUBG with the Jews and win — implying shooting Jews to death — and expresses excitement about the idea through the exclamation mark emoji. The video includes a segment of one of al-Hasanat’s sermons. The post further includes the Arabic hashtag “#Friday_of_al-Aqsa_storm” and gained over 29.7K views on X (formerly Twitter).

Social Media Monitoring Failed

For three years this sermon floated around social media despite violating every platform’s community standards and policies, beginning on al-Hasanat’s YouTube channel and making its way onto TikTok, X, and more.

AI monitoring at major social media platforms failed to pick up on this call for violence.  We know from leaked internal documents that this is typical, and that Meta allocates significantly less funding and resources to monitor in languages other than English, such as Arabic in particular — a cross-platform language bias that CyberWell’s monitoring repeatedly confirms.

So when the border to Gaza was bulldozed and hundreds of young people were gunned down, this sermon was primed to go viral.

Between October 7-29 CyberWell’s social listening tools detected that ببجي اليهود | [PUBG the Jews] had a potential reach of 53.8K.

The related hashtag نصنع_ببجي_في_اليهود# | [we are doing PUBG to the Jews] gained over 25K views on TikTok alone.

Social media users began pairing the voice clip of al-Hasanat’s sermon with videos of Hamas paragliders infiltrating Israeli territory, videos from the PUBG game with simulated shooting, and videos displaying weapons.  And social media platforms did not notice.

The Facebook video above, with over 4.2K views, first shows a clip of al-Hasanat’s sermon and stitches it to footage of gunfights and car explosions. The in-video text reads, “We are a generation we will declare world war the third soon.” The Arabic text on the bottom reads, “You call this generation the PUBG generation, right?”

To give credit where it’s due, CyberWell alerted several platforms through our trusted flaggers relationship, and TikTok and Meta have since removed most of the posts that we flagged.

Evolution of a Hateful Trend

Now that the full original sermon is no longer available online, al-Hasanat and those radicalized by his call have turned to other means to spread their violent message.  Al-Hasanat released multiple sermons in which he refers to his original sermon or shares short clips that are able to fly under the radar. In one video he says “I told you one day: ‘Try it and open the borders to them. They will make PUBG on the Jews.’ Today, what was done to the Jews… Whoever made PUBG must learn from today. He must learn from Gaza’s heroes.” Because it is a different video clip, it is able to slip past social media platforms’ AI monitoring systems. Social media platforms must allocate additional resources to monitor not only exact voice clips and images, but also utilize AI and generative AI to monitor for similar content as well.

Additionally, the evolution of this sermon has shifted to focus on the “opening the border” component, a more complex phrase to monitor than PUBG + Jews.

The breaking down of the border fence between Israel and Gaza by Hamas forces became a symbol of the attack on Israel. افتحو_لنا_الحدود# | [Open the borders for us], mentioned in al-Hasanat’s sermon, calls for Palestinians and Muslims everywhere to join in the Palestinian uprising and the violent attacks.

Between October 7-29 CyberWell’s social listening tools detected that this hashtag had a potential reach of 4.2 million.

The tweet above shares a TikTok video celebrating the Hamas paragliders and the fact that they “made PUBG among the Jews.” It also demonstrates how trends easily hop across platforms.

Influencer Impact

“Influencers” are called such because their words and actions can spark new trends – for better or for worse. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, CyberWell has been tracking al-Hasanat’s accounts, which continue to grow. While some of his accounts have been shut down, he simply opens a new one and the followers flock. Social media platforms must take steps to ensure that users identified as harmful are not able to get around suspensions by opening new accounts.

TikTok | 9.6 million followers

Instagram | 5.4 million followers

Facebook | 4 million followers

YouTube | 618K followers

X (formerly Twitter) | 67K followers (combined following of 2 accounts)

NOTE: Number of followers calculated as of October 30, 2023

Looking Forward

Al-Hasanat’s millions of followers have been exposed for years to his call to murder Jews within a catchy pop-culture framework. Using video game references and imagery turns slaughter of innocent people into a game, dehumanizing the Jewish people and reducing them to unthinking, unfeeling non-player characters. Once platforms recognized that al-Hasanat was spreading harmful content and suspended his account, more should have been done to keep him off their platforms and properly enforce their own decisions.

Social media platforms must allocate more resources to monitoring for hate content in Arabic especially, and not just during times of conflict. The fact that PUBG the Jews was allowed to fester online for three years prior to October 7 is unacceptable. Social media platforms have a responsibility to their users to ensure safety, and by empowering a campaign of hate and calls for violence against the Jewish people – they failed. Meta’s own independent Oversight Board recognized Meta’s failures in 2021 – but clearly the necessary action was not taken.  All social media platforms must learn from the rise in violence around the world sparked by online hate and do better – lives are at stake.

[i] CyberWell uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when classifying content.  The 75% refers to Type 2 (Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions), whereas the 61% refers to Type 1 (Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion). Note that both specifically refer to Jews and NOT Israelis.

More Articles
Logo for CyberWell, the first-ever open database of online antisemitism
January 22, 2024
Press Release | CyberWell Study Unpacks the Newest Iteration of Online Antisemitism

CyberWell identified hundreds of social media posts reaching 26 million users denying the atrocities committed on October 7 by Hamas terrorists against Israeli and Jewish civilians. Social media platforms must take steps to recognize October 7 denial as antisemitic and prohibit this content.

December 7, 2023
PUBG the Jews: Call to Murder Jews Trends Online

After the October 7 attack on Israel, CyberWell identified far more antisemitic content calling for violence against Jews than usual — including the phrase “PUBG the Jews.”

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.

Contact Us

Fill out this form with some details or email us at [email protected]

Be in touch to request a platform demo, learn about our
work, explore partnership opportunities, offer support, or
simply to encourage our efforts. We want to hear from you!