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Mini-Lesson
Current Event

When Online Hate Speech Has Real World Consequences

This mini-lesson explores celebrity influence and online hate, specifically antisemitism.

Published:

At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Antisemitism

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

This mini-lesson is part one of a two-part exploration of online hate speech, celebrity influence, and the real-life consequences they can engender. This installment uses a recent high-profile example of antisemitic rhetoric and action it inspired to prompt students' thinking about the dangerous role that celebrity influence and social media platforms can play in amplifying online hate speech. It also educates students about the origin and meaning of a common antisemitic trope so that they can better identify and deconstruct antisemitism they may see online. Finally, it helps students consider who is responsible for combating online hate and what methods should be used to do so. 


What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this mini-lesson.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 3 activities
  • Student-facing slides

The prevalence of online hate is alarming, both for the people it targets and for our society as a whole. This mini-lesson looks at the impacts of online hate, celebrity influence, and one concerning trend in online hate-–rising antisemitism. 

Online hate speech can harm the mental health of those whose identities are targeted, making them feel fearful, or anxious, and alone. Additionally, it has been linked to violent attacks around the world, including the shootings in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 1

Antisemitic attacks, and other identity-based hate crimes, have increased in recent years in the United States, both online and in person. On TikTok alone, antisemitic comments increased 912 percent from 2020 to 2021 2 . During a one-week timespan in May of 2021, 17,000 Twitter users posted variations of the antisemitic phrase “Hitler was right.” 3 Antisemitic violence has also surged, and the New York police department reported a 400 percent increase in attacks targeting Jews in February of 2022 compared to the previous February. 4

In October 2022, the musician, producer, and fashion designer Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) drew increased attention to the alarming trend of online antisemitism and other forms of hate when he posted two antisemitic tweets, one of which was removed by Twitter soon after it was posted. His account was suspended, but in the days that followed, he gave a series of interviews that continued to include antisemitic attacks. 5  

Ye has been accused of spreading anti-Black, misogynistic, antisemitic and other hateful messages for years, though this behavior has escalated more recently. Celebrities and influencers have the ability to amplify hate speech online beyond the power of most people because of their large followings. For example, in October 2022, Ye had an estimated 27 million Twitter followers and 18.4 million Instagram followers. For comparison, there are an estimated 14.8 million Jews in the world, meaning that Ye has a larger online following than there are members of the identity group he targeted in this instance.

Ye’s antisemitic speech has drawn strong reactions, with some people and extremist organizations expressing support for his antisemitic ideas, while others have condemned them.

Soon after he posted his tweets, Ye was invited by the Holocaust Museum LA to take a private tour, an offer he rejected publicly during an interview. The Holocaust museum was then flooded with hate mail, some containing threats of violence. 6

On October 22, 2022, white nationalists displayed a banner on an overpass in Los Angeles with the message, “Honk if you know Kanye was right about the Jews.” The group responsible for the banner has held similar antisemitic demonstrations on the same overpass and elsewhere before. On October 30, a nearly identical message was projected onto the TIAA Bankfield Stadium following a college football game in Jacksonville. Similar messages were projected elsewhere in the city the same night. 7

In the weeks following Ye’s October antisemitic Tweets, other celebrities, as well as non-celebrities, began posting expressions of solidarity with Jewish people on their social media accounts. The fact that so many people spoke out against his antisemitism has had an impact. Due to the public pressure, including a Campaign Against Antisemitism petition with 175,000 signatures, Adidas severed business relationships with Ye, as did Gap, Balenciaga and the talent agency that represented him 8 . He was also suspended from Twitter and Instagram in October 2022.

Ye’s antisemitic speech is one high profile example of a larger trend. Hate speech that targets people based on their identities is alarmingly common in online spaces and is regularly spread by both celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Self-reflection is important preparation for facilitating conversations about troubling current events. As educators, we have to make time to process our own feelings and become aware of the way our own identities and experiences shape the perspectives we hold. Read the “Start with Yourself” section on page 2 of our Fostering Civil Discourse guide. Then reflect on the following questions:

  • What emotions does news of online hate and increasing antisemitism raise for you? What questions are you grappling with?
  • What perspectives will you bring to your reflection on this news with your students?
  • What emotions might your students bring to your discussion? How can you respond to these emotions?

Students may respond differently to the materials in this mini-lesson, 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. It also is important that you view and read the materials for this lesson before deciding whether or not they are appropriate for your students.

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. Consider how you and your students can respond if someone in your class violates your norms, for example by repeating hate speech or an antisemitic trope. 

For more ideas on how to address problematic comments in the classroom, including scenarios and sentence stems, read human rights educator Loretta Ross’s article Speaking Up Without Tearing Down, published by Learning for Justice.

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Activities

Activities

Begin by asking students to look at two infographics from the ADL’s report Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2021 “Anatomy of Harassment” and “Demographics of Harassment,” which can be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson. 

The data in the infographics comes from a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the ADL. The participants in the survey were all over the age of 18 and were chosen to be representative of the demographics of the United States. They were asked to report whether they had experienced online harassment over their lifetime. A total of 847 people responded.

Ask students to respond to the following prompts in their journals:

  • What information did you find surprising?
  • What information did you find troubling?
  • What questions does this information raise for you?

Once students have finished, ask for volunteers to share some responses for each question with the class.

Then, share the following passage with background information about the rise of online hate, specifically antisemitism, and the events surrounding Ye’s recent antisemitic speech (which can also be found in the context section and Slides for this mini-lesson):

The prevalence of online hate is alarming, both for the people it targets and for our society as a whole. This mini-lesson looks at the impacts of online hate, celebrity influence, and one concerning trend in online hate-– rising antisemitism. 

Online hate speech can harm the mental health of those whose identities are targeted, making them feel fearful, or anxious, and alone. Additionally, it has been linked to violent attacks around the world, including the shootings in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 1

Antisemitic attacks, and other identity-based hate crimes, have increased in recent years, in the United States, both online and in person. On TikTok alone, antisemitic comments increased 912 percent from 2020 to 2021 2 . During a one-week timespan in May of 2021, 17,000 Twitter users posted variations of the antisemitic phrase “Hitler was right.” 3 Antisemitic violence has also surged, and the New York police department reported a 400 percent increase in attacks targeting Jews in February of 2022 compared to the previous February. 4

In October 2022, the musician, producer, and fashion designer Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) drew increased attention to the alarming trend of online antisemitism and other forms of hate when he posted two antisemitic tweets, one of which was removed by Twitter soon after it was posted. His account was suspended, but in the days that followed, he gave a series of interviews that continued to include antisemitic attacks. 5

Ye has been accused of spreading anti-Black, misogynistic, antisemitic  and other hateful messages for years, though this behavior has escalated more recently . Celebrities and influencers have the ability to amplify hate speech online beyond the power of most people because of their large followings. For example, iIn October 2022, Ye had an estimated 27 million Twitter followers and 18.4 million Instagram followers. For comparison, there are an estimated 14.8 million Jews in the world, meaning that Ye has a larger online following than there are members of the identity group he targeted in this instance.

Ye’s antisemitic speech has drawn strong reactions, with some people and extremist organizations expressing support for his antisemitic ideas, while others have condemned them.

Soon after he posted his tweets, Ye was invited by the Holocaust Museum LA to take a private tour, an offer he rejected publicly during an interview. The Holocaust museum was then flooded with hate mail, some containing threats of violence. 6

On October 22, 2022, white nationalists displayed a banner on an overpass in Los Angeles with the message, “Honk if you know Kanye was right about the Jews.” The group responsible for the banner has held similar antisemitic demonstrations on the same overpass and elsewhere before. On October 30, a nearly identical message was projected onto the TIAA Bankfield Stadium following a college football game in Jacksonville. Similar messages were projected elsewhere in the city the same night. 7

In the weeks following Ye’s October antisemitic Tweets, other celebrities, as well as non-celebrities, began posting expressions of solidarity with Jewish people on their social media accounts. The fact that so many people spoke out against his antisemitism has had an impact. Due to the public pressure, including a Campaign Against Antisemitism petition with 175,000 signatures, Adidas severed business relationships with Ye, as did Gap, Balenciaga and the talent agency that represented him 8 . He was also suspended from Twitter and Instagram in October 2022.

Ye’s antisemitic speech is one high profile example of a larger trend. Hate speech that targets people based on their identities is alarmingly common in online spaces and is regularly spread by both celebrities and non-celebrities alike. 

Once you have finished reading, discuss the following questions with your students:

  • How might online hate impact the individuals whose identities are targeted? How might it impact society as a whole?
  • How might the impact of encountering hate speech online be different from the impact of encountering it in person (for example seeing a banner with a hateful message)?
  • What impact do you think it can have when someone with a large social media following spreads hate online? Do people who have more influence online have different responsibilities around their speech? Why or why not?

When antisemitism shows up in social media, it is often in the form of conspiracy theories infused with old antisemitic tropes. In the following activity, students will learn the definitions and origins of a trope commonly evoked in contemporary antisemitic rhetoric, then examine two actual examples of antisemitic social media posts that incorporate this trope, in order to help them identify and deconstruct antisemitism they may see online. If this is the first time your students are learning about contemporary antisemitism, please start with reviewing  our contemporary antisemitism explainer Antisemitism and Its Impacts with your students before continuing with this activity. 

Ask students to read the following definition (which can also be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson):

Antisemitic conspiracy theories rely on tropes—widely shared ideas, stereotypes, phrases, images or stories. Tropes can be neutral, like common movie or literary tropes, but antisemitic tropes cause great harm. In this activity, you will learn about the definition and origin of an antisemitic trope that frequently appears in antisemitic hate speech on social media.

Then, ask students to reflect on the following prompt in a private journal entry:

Think of a time when someone made a negative assumption or stereotype about you. What happened? How did it feel?

When students have finished writing, ask them to read the following passage (which can also be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson):

Global Domination/Power: a conspiracy theory that Jews are global puppet masters who secretly control the media, the entertainment industry, the economy and powerful governments. This conspiracy originated in an early twentieth century publication entitled The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which claimed to document the secret meeting of powerful Jews who were conspiring to take over the world. A meeting like this never happened. In the 1920s, American industrialist Henry Ford brought The Protocols to the US, printed it first as a series of articles in his newspaper, and then in its entirety. It became the second-highest selling book beneath the Christian bible during that time. The Protocols became widely published, translated into 16 languages, and played a role in Nazi ideology. 1 It still circulates today in white supremacist groups. Terms like “Globalists,” “The Cosmopolitan or Academic Elite,” “Cabal” and “The Rothschilds” are often used as code words to spread this trope.

In small groups of 3 to 4, have students examine the language and images from these actual social media posts below and answer the following questions for each example.

  • What are the messages being expressed in the text or image?
  • Who do you think the “you” is in each of these examples? Does the “you” shift to different groups?  How does the use of the term create an “in group” and “out group”? 
  • How does this post connect to the trope of Jewish "global domination/power"? Where specifically do you see the trope being employed? 
  • How might it feel to come across an online post that stereotypes or threatens you based on your identity?

Example 1:

Ye’s October 8, 2022 Twitter Posts included the following text:

“...I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE…You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”

A second tweet posed the rhetorical question, “Who you think created cancel culture?”

Example 2:

The following meme (sometimes with the Star of David removed) has been reposted widely on social media platforms by other celebrities and influencers. The quote is falsely attributed to Enlightenment era thinker Voltaire. Its origins are a 1993 radio broadcast by a self-described white supremacist and Holocaust denier. 2

Next, read the following excerpt from The Atlantic article Kanye West Destroys Himself out loud, with students following along. This excerpt and the questions that follow are designed to allow students to consider why the Global Domination/Power trope is so persistent and what sort of responses can be effective in countering the trope:

[W]hen an anti-Semite suffers consequences for falsely claiming that sinister Jews control the world, he can then point to that punishment as vindication of his views. For Jews, this is a no-win scenario: If they stay silent, the anti-Semitism continues unabated; if they speak up, and their assailant is penalized by non-Jewish society, anti-Semites feel affirmed. Heads, the bigots win; tails, Jews lose. This is the cruel paradox that has perpetuated anti-Semitism for centuries. 1

Ask students to discuss the following questions, in their small groups, or as a whole class:

  • Rosenberg argues that when the people who spread antisemitic conspiracy theories suffer consequences for their speech, it can actually fuel more antisemitism. Why does this happen?
  • How might this create a situation that can feel like a no-win for Jews?
  • How do the ideas in this passage connect to the social media posts you analyzed?
  • Upstanders are people who speak or act in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied. How can non-Jewish allies speaking up to denounce antisemitism counter the self-fulfilling nature of these conspiracy theories?

Note: While online antisemitism is difficult to confront, it may be helpful to explain to your students that there are actions that people and organizations can take to combat it. The final activity of this mini-lesson helps students think through some of these actions.

This activity uses the Jigsaw teaching strategy to guide a discussion on actions that different groups of people or organizations can take to stop the spread of hate online. (Note: You can also organize this activity using the Big Paper strategy by asking students to silently “discuss” one prompt in their initial groups, by writing down their responses on a shared poster paper, and then to read and comment on other groups’ papers.)

Place your students in initial groups of 3 to 4 and assign them one of the following prompts 1 to discuss:

  • If social media companies take the issue of online hate seriously, what actions should they take? What is the responsibility of social media companies to stop the spread of online hate and where does their responsibility end?
  • If celebrities and influencers take the issue of online hate seriously, what actions should they take? What is the responsibility of celebrities and influencers to fight the spread of online hate and where does their responsibility end?
  • If schools take the issue of online hate seriously, what actions should they take? What is the responsibility of schools to stop the spread of online hate and where does their responsibility end?

Students should take notes on what they discuss with their groups and be prepared to share. Once students have finished their discussions in their initial groups, move them into new groups that contain at least one person who discussed each prompt. Ask them to take turns sharing what they discussed in their initial groups. Then, students can discuss any additional ideas they have. 

Finish by asking students to respond to the following prompt in their journals: 

If I take the issue of online hate seriously, what are the day-to-day implications for how I live my life? What might my personal actions and behaviors look like? What might I choose to do differently? When and where might I find myself speaking out?

To help students generate ideas for the journal reflections, share the following suggestions (which can also be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson) for steps they can take when they encounter hate online:

Actions individuals can take to stop the spread of hate online:

  • When you see posts on social media that contain hate, use the reporting function to flag the post, if the platform has one
  • Be aware that responding to posts that contain hate or reposting them with your own commentary, even to disagree, can have the unintended consequence of amplifying the initial post and cause the site’s algorithms to place similar content in your feed
  • Do not forward posts containing hate to people who are targeted by the hate, because seeing these posts can cause them harm
  • Learn about the identity and culture of those who are targeted from individuals, communities, and organizations within that identity and culture in order to counter stereotypes.
  • Reach out to people who you think might be impacted by hate you see online to offer support
  • Limit your own exposure to online hate, for example by unsubscribing to individuals or groups that spread hate
  • If you have been the target of online hate, reach out to people who can offer you support, such as friends, family, or a school counselor.
  • Report online hate (or other incidents of hate) to the ADL.
  • 1These prompts and the final journal prompt are adapted from Project Zero’s “4 If’s” thinking routine (The Power of Making Thinking Visible: Practices to Engage and Empower All Learners (Jossey-Bass, 2020), 190.).

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Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

The slides below contain student-facing versions of the activities in this mini-lesson.

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.
Jerusalem Declaration
Jerusalem Declaration

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