BY ANNETTE GREENBERG
When Debbie, the administrator of the Instagram page @rootsmetals, started to gain a following, the purpose of her page was to promote her jewelry business, which is inspired by her Jewish and Latina culture.
She decided to incorporate lessons about Jewish history and antisemitism after she made a post about this subject on her story and she saw that it resonated with many of her followers. But Debbie, who asked to remain identified by her first name to avoid online harassment, said her posts have consistently been flagged, mass reported, and taken down.
“I’ve had neo-Nazi people send me pictures of guns — that I will report, because that’s pretty extreme — but I usually don’t even bother,” Debbie added.
Debbie said that “nine times out of ten,” reporting harassment did not have any effect. She usually posts daily, and while the frequency of censorship against her page tends to vary, it’s happened as often as twenty different incidents in one week.
Instagram’s community guidelines condemn hate speech, but Debbie recommends that social media platforms work with the Anti-Defamation League in order to curb these incidents.
“Antisemitism requires a lot of understanding… it can’t just be certain words you can’t say because it usually involves a lot of context.” Debbie said. “A lot of the understanding of what is to be Jewish has very much been influenced by people that are not Jewish… It’s super important for us to understand who we are through our own perception and the perception of our ancestors.”
“If we don’t know who we are, we can’t even begin to educate others,” Debbie added.
Debbie’s experience has become increasingly run-of-the-mill for people who engage in social media advocacy relating to Jews and antisemitism. However, this issue is not exclusive to activists. In a 2021 Online Hate and Harassment survey from the ADL, 36 percent of the Jewish people surveyed said that they had an experience with harassment online, and of that number, 13 percent also said that they received threats of physical violence.
According to the administrator of another Jewish advocacy page, @neuroticjewishgay, the issue lies not with Instagram’s policies, but their enforcement.
“The appeals process sucks. I have to talk to so many different people before I get a response,”said NJG, who also asked not to be identified for fear of further harassment.
One of NJG’s removed posts was a response to a TikTok user who defended his description of religious Jews as “horrible people” by claiming that one of his heroes was Anne Frank.
NJG’s account has been threatened with a ban eight times since January 2021. Her posts differ from Debbie’s in that they use satire in a meme format to mock antisemitic views and raise awareness of antisemitism through comedy.
In accordance with the Instagram guidelines, which state that “When hate speech is being shared to challenge it or to raise awareness… we ask that you express your intent clearly,” NJG includes a disclaimer stating her intent in the caption of every post.
These disclaimers, she said, have had a minimal effect. She thinks that there needs to be more human review of reported posts in order to properly enforce this policy.
“I don’t believe that in 2022, Instagram isn’t able to tell the difference between David Duke and me when I have clearly stated my intent,” said NJG.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram does not have a policy of removing posts containig Holocaust denial. Adela Cojab, a law student and activist who sued New York University for failing to protect Jewish students, thinks that the antisemitism is especially intense on TikTok, but that the policies should be decided at the discretion of each platform.
“Most of my TikTok videos now are just replying to antisemitic comments,” Adela said. “It’s very easy to have horrible views and share them on the internet. It’s much harder to talk to someone about it.”
She also said that the spread of misinformation on social media has worsened the situation for Jewish college students because “when you’re a college kid you want to be involved in social causes, so you just repost whatever your friends repost.”
“All it takes is one bad infographic and then the next thing you know, there is a whole class spreading the misinformation to more people,” Cojab said.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”