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.
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
. During a one-week timespan in May of 2021, 17,000 Twitter users posted variations of the antisemitic phrase “Hitler was right.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
. 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.