Deconstructing Antisemitic Memes: Helping Students Critically View Online Hate | Facing History & Ourselves
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Deconstructing Antisemitic Memes: Helping Students Critically View Online Hate

Students consider the intentions, dangers, and impacts of online hate by engaging in a step-by-step close analysis and deconstruction of antisemitic memes.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • Social Studies




Two 50-min class periods
  • Antisemitism


About This Lesson

This lesson guides students in deconstructing images of online hate, with a focus on antisemitic memes. Students will identify the tropes and conspiracy narratives that are almost always embedded in expressions of antisemitism and consider the impacts of these memes. Practicing this critical examination in a contained classroom environment will help students identify, critically analyze, and deconstruct the antisemitic and racist content they likely do or will encounter on social media. 

Several of the techniques and concepts integrated into the following lesson are adapted from Monika Hûbscher's (University of Duisburg-Essen, University of Haifa) workshop on social media literacy and antisemitism, part of a German research project entitled "Antisemitism and Youth." Hübscher and her fellow researchers have concluded that social media literacy, and specifically the deconstruction of antisemitic material, is essential to the critical examination of and response to antisemitism on social media.

  • Why is it important to be able to recognize hate when we encounter it?
  • What antisemitic tropes and conspiracy narratives are embedded in antisemitism on social media?
  • What forms does antisemitism take on social media?
  • Connect contemporary antisemitic memes to historical antisemitic material.
  • Identify antisemitic tropes and conspiracy narratives embedded in memes found on social media platforms.
  • Deconstruct antisemitic imagery in order to uncover and analyze the intended messages, emotional appeal, target audience, and use of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy narratives.
  • Decrease the susceptibility to consume antisemitic or racist content online without recognizing it as such or to internalize the false ideas such content promotes.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 1 handout
  • Student-facing slides

We as a society are still grappling with how to combat identity-based hate expressed on social media: how to contend with the speed at which content is spread on social media, whom to hold accountable for its spread, how to contain its reach, and how to respond to it. Social media is a newer addition to more traditional levers of power—a lever wielded by celebrities, politicians, and influencers with millions of followers, then fortified by everyday users who like and repost tweets, memes, or videos until they achieve viral status. Algorithms often mark social media engagement without discerning whether users are responding to content favorably or critically, leading not only to the amplification of hate online but, on certain platforms, to users receiving more unwanted racist or bigoted content. Hate on social media can take many forms, including text-based posts, such as tweets, comments on others’ posts, and the focus of this lesson, memes.

Tracking the fluctuation of identity-based hatred on social media poses myriad challenges, as both social media platforms and our engagement with them are constantly evolving, but it’s clear that antisemitism has a persistent and robust presence in these spaces. On TikTok alone, antisemitic comments increased 912% from 2020 to 2021. 1 The Center for Countering Digital Hate reported that 714 anti-Semitic posts on social media received 7.3 million views in two months in 2021. Of these anti-Semitic posts, only 16% of the posts were removed by the social media companies. 2 In a 2022 ADL youth survey, three out of four marginalized youth reported being harassed online because of their identity. 3 Such harassment can harm the mental health of those whose identities are targeted, making them feel fearful and isolated. It can also lead to identity suppression. Young people report leaving their Jewish identities off of their social media presence in order to avoid anti-Jewish responses.

It’s also critical to understand that antisemitism on social media does not stay there; it leads to antisemitic incidents in non-virtual spaces. For example, in the weeks following Kanye West’s antisemitic tweets in November of 2022, a neo-Nazi group hung an antisemitic banner referencing his tweets from a freeway overpass in Los Angeles; the Holocaust Museum LA (whose invitation for a private tour West rejected) was flooded with hate mail; and antisemitic messages referencing his tweets were projected at a college football game in Jacksonville, Florida. Online hatred has also been linked to acts of mass violence around the world, including the shootings in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Recognizing online antisemitism in both visual and text-based forms is a critical step in effectively responding to it, one that requires an understanding of the mythology—the tropes, coded language, and conspiracy narratives—that fuel antisemitism. Providing young people with the tools to critically analyze and deconstruct antisemitic messaging online will help them better navigate virtual spaces where they will almost certainly encounter antisemitism as well as other forms of identity-based hatred without falling victim to this propaganda.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Before you begin this lesson, it is very important to consider whether you have already established a classroom culture that will be relatively safe for difficult and potentially complex conversations. These conversations may stir strong emotions in students and often end without closure. The guide Fostering Civil Discourse includes practices and resources to establish the sort of classroom environment that increases safety and productivity when having such conversations. If you have already created the appropriate classroom culture for hard conversations, it will still be critical to refresh students on contracting and properly prepare them for dehumanizing content. Students may respond differently to the materials, depending on their knowledge of or personal experience with hate speech or antisemitism. Before teaching the following activities, consider revisiting your classroom norms with your students or creating a class contract together if you have not done so already. You might invite your students to check in with you privately if they are anxious for any reason about engaging with this material.

Your contract should also make it clear that while you encourage the expression of different viewpoints and diverse voices, members of your community are responsible for maintaining an environment that respects the dignity and humanity of all. These images are intended to be harmful and malicious and should be taken seriously. While some images may attempt to appeal to humor or look absurd, we should understand the seriousness of them as we go through these activities. Consider how you and your students can respond if someone in your class violates your norms—for example by validating the hate speech or an antisemitic trope from this material.

It also is important that you view and read the materials and student-facing slides for this lesson before deciding whether or not they are appropriate for your students. You may want to inform your administrators or parents about this lesson and the rationale behind it. If this will be most of your students’ first exposure to Jewish identity and culture, we encourage you to begin with some of the materials found in the Additional Resources section first. If you have not discussed antisemitism in your classroom at all, we strongly recommend you first introduce your students to some fundamental definitions, history, manifestations and impacts of antisemitism using the Facing History material Explainer: Antisemitism and Its Impacts. This material includes a chart of common tropes and conspiracy theories essential to identifying antisemitism in social media content. 

Lastly, under no circumstances should the antisemitic memes included in this lesson be photocopied and/or distributed. In addition, any slides containing the images should remain in the possession of the teacher only and should not be placed on any portals that students have access to such as Google Classroom or similar. These measures are meant to greatly diminish the chances of these images being shared out of context. For that same reason, it is also imperative that students are not allowed to take screenshots of any of these images with their phones. As an extra measure to emphasize categorical rejection of the false messages and harmful images in these samples of antisemitic propaganda, we have applied the “no” sign (the red circle-backslash symbol) to each image.

When teaching about racism, bigotry, or any other force of hate and oppression, it is impossible to avoid exposing ourselves and our students to the very concepts and content we are trying to eradicate. In order to be able to even recognize material we encounter as antisemitic or racist, we need to first learn about the tropes, conspiracy myths, stereotypes, imagery, and coded language embedded in this content. Where did they come from? What motivated their creation? Next, we need to be able to deconstruct the hateful content—disassemble the pieces that make up the overall image and message in order to understand why the content is false and dangerous. 

Many young people are already exposed to this content online, on social media and gaming platforms, often without the adults in their lives even being aware of it. After all, it has become impossible to monitor everything that young people consume on their phones and computers. Even offline, we often don’t have control over youth exposure to hateful ideas, whether it be via comments from a peer, lyrics in a song, a banner dropped from the overpass of a highway, a message projected on a building, graffiti in a school bathroom, or harmful stereotypes in a popular movie. We do know that students don’t always recognize antisemitism, its gravity, or its impact when they encounter and consume it. 

For these reasons, it’s necessary to examine this dehumanizing content in the classroom, where educators can properly guide students in identifying and understanding its malicious nature. When deciding whether to engage with this content in the classroom, two valid concerns come up: 

  • The risk of upsetting students with graphic, dehumanizing content, particularly students who identify as a member of the group being targeted by this hateful content
  • The risk of exposing students to false ideas that they may quietly find appealing or validating, thus leading them to further explore hate-based ideas and content on their own

There is no way to entirely remove either of these risks from this lesson’s examination of the manifestations and impact of racism and bigotry, but there are steps educators can take to mitigate them, including: 

  • Preparing students for the lesson and contracting as a class (see Teaching Note 1)
  • Acknowledging the paradoxical nature of anti-racist learning—the tension that arises from needing to expose ourselves to and engage with racist, antisemitic, or otherwise bigoted thinking in order to recognize its insidious nature so we can combat it
  • Inviting students to check in with you one-on-one regarding their reactions to the memes
  • Closely observing students’ reactions to the lesson and following up with individual students who concern you (circulating during any small-group work will aid in this observation)
  • Using exit cards to find out what students are taking away from the lesson
  • Taking the necessary amount of time to thoroughly disprove and deconstruct the memes (e.g., unpacking the history and origins of the tropes and myths at play in the memes; identifying the self-serving motivations behind the perpetuation of these false ideas and stereotypes; and debunking any erroneous statistics and facts in the memes)

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Lesson Plan

Day 1

As an opening activity, have students respond privately to the following questions in their journals

  • Have you witnessed or experienced antisemitism or other identity-based hatred in virtual spaces (e.g., social media, YouTube, online gaming)? 
  • What did you see? 
  • How did it make you feel? 
  • How did you respond?
  • Monika Hübscher, scholar and co-editor of the research anthology Antisemitism and Social Media, calls online hate “textual and visual violence.” Do you agree? In what ways could text or images be categorized as violence?

You may wish to have students volunteer to share their answers with the whole class or engage in a Think, Pair, Share to discuss their answers with a classmate. 

Examining historical antisemitic images can illuminate the persistent nature of antisemitism and help students understand the ulterior motives that fuel antisemitic tropes and conspiracy myths by demonstrating how far back these ideas can be traced and why they were created. Students will be able to draw connections between these historical images and the contemporary memes they will analyze next. 

For this activity, you may wish to examine the three images located in the slides for this lesson (slides 9-11), or at least one of them, as a whole group to model the analysis before breaking the class up into small groups to analyze the remaining images. It will be helpful for students to have the Antisemitic Tropes Chart from the Antisemitism and Its Impacts explainer on hand as they examine these images.

Note: Historical context for each of image is provided in the speaker notes of the slides. We recommend that students first observe the images without any context, generate questions they need to have answered in order to properly interpret the images, and then research the origins of the images themselves. Teachers should use their discretion in determining whether to provide the linked context to students directly.

Use a variation of the Analyzing Images teaching strategy to help students shift into a mode of close and critical observation, a skill they will practice more thoroughly in Day 2 of this lesson. You may want to have students record their answers on a Padlet shared with the whole class or simply discuss their answers in small groups or pairs.

  • Step 1: Ask students to look closely at the image for a few minutes. Have them observe shapes, colors, textures, the position of people and/or objects, etc.
  • Step 2: Have students write down what they see without making any interpretations yet about what the image is trying to say.
  • Step 3: Ask students, “What questions do you have about this picture that you would need to have answered before you can begin to interpret it?” List students’ questions (or have students list them).
  • Step 4: Have students try to find some of the answers to their questions by broadening their discussion with other students or another group.
  • Step 5: Have students identify any antisemitic tropes or conspiracy theories embedded in the image using the Antisemitic Tropes Chart. 
  • Step 6: Given the historical context and subject of the piece, ask students what they think the artist is trying to say: What does the piece mean? Who do they think was the intended audience?

Use the Exit Tickets strategy to assess how the first day’s lesson has impacted students at the end of class. You can use exit cards to quickly check for understanding, find out what questions remain, or gauge how the lesson has impacted students emotionally. 

Possible prompts for today’s exit card include: 

  • List three things you learned in class today.
  • What questions, ideas, and feelings did this lesson raise for you?

Day 2

First, explain to the class that antisemitic and racist memes are created with the intention to mischaracterize members of a specific group of people in order to advance a narrative of hate that serves the meme creator in some way.

Next, view the Facing History and Ourselves video Deconstructing Antisemitic Memes (7 minutes). You may wish to view the entire video and then discuss, or you may stop the video after each meme has been deconstructed to check for understanding and discuss. If students don’t already have the Antisemitic Tropes Chart from the Antisemitism and its Impacts explainer, provide them with that now, as the chart serves as helpful companion material for the video and the activity that follows. 

A variation of the 3-2-1 teaching strategy can be used to debrief the contents of the video.

Have students jot down:

  • Three things they have learned from the video
  • Two questions they still have
  • One thing they found particularly striking, upsetting, or challenging

Then invite students to share their responses.

First, model deconstructing a meme with the whole class using the procedure in the How to Deconstruct a Meme handout. For this activity, you can use the memes provided in the slides for this lesson (slides 20-24). Next, students will practice deconstructing these antisemitic memes in small groups. You may wish to have groups report out to the whole class on the meme they analyzed. Note that, with some modifications, this guide can be used for critically analyzing any online hate content.

Note: In order to ensure that these images are not viewed without context or distributed outside of the classroom, it is critical that this activity be conducted in the classroom and not as homework. Remind students they may not take screenshots of these memes, and do not photocopy them.

Use the Exit Cards strategy to assess how the lesson has impacted students at the end of class. You can use exit cards to quickly check for understanding, find out what questions remain, or gauge how the lesson has impacted students emotionally.

Here are some prompts you might use:

  • List three things you learned in class today.
  • What questions, ideas, and feelings did this lesson raise for you?
  • How will today’s lesson impact the way you engage with social media?

Materials and Downloads

Additional Resources

Resources on Jewish Identity and Culture

It is essential that antisemitism is not students’ only point of reference and exposure to Jewish identity and culture. Before we confront harmful stereotypes and bigotry at the heart of antisemitism, we should elevate authentic stories of joy and diversity from within the Jewish community. We must not, ourselves, reduce a community to its stereotypes even as we attempt to unpack the harmful ideologies of bias and hate directed toward that community. Below is a small collection of resources that celebrate the richness of Jewish identity.

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