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World leaders say tech companies 'completely failing'

At Sweden summit, social media giants urged to act against ‘rife’ antisemitism

Online hate speech escaping sites such as Parler and 4chan and being repackaged and disseminated to wider public, particularly young people, though apps like Instagram and TikTok

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven delivers the opening speech at the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism - REACT. The one-day conference will focus on the receding memory of the Holocaust as Sweden marks the 20th anniversary of a conference on remembering the genocide. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP)
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven delivers the opening speech at the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism - REACT. The one-day conference will focus on the receding memory of the Holocaust as Sweden marks the 20th anniversary of a conference on remembering the genocide. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP)

MALMO, Sweden (AFP) — Social media giants were urged to take action on Wednesday to stem “rife” online antisemitism during an international conference in Sweden focused on the growing amount of hatred published on many platforms.

The Swedish government invited social media giants TikTok, Google and Facebook along with representatives from 40 countries, the United Nations and Jewish organizations to the event designed to tackle the rising global scourge of antisemitism.

Sweden hosted the event in the southern city of Malmo, which was a hotbed of antisemitic sentiment in the early 2000s but which during World War II welcomed Danish Jews fleeing the Nazis and inmates rescued from concentration camps in 1945.

“What they see today in social media is hatred,” World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder told the conference.

Google told the event, officially called the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, that it was earmarking five million euros ($5.78 million) to combat antisemitism online.

“We want to stop hate speech online and ensure we have a safe digital environment for our citizens,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a pre-recorded statement.

European organizations accused tech companies of “completely failing to address the issue”, saying antisemitism was being repackaged and disseminated to a younger generation through platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

Antisemitic tropes are “rife across every social media platform”, found a study linked to the conference that was carried out by three NGOs.

Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf, right, and Queen Silvia meet with Holocaust survivors at an exhibition showing the “White Buses”, used in a Red Cross rescue action in 1945, during the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, in Malmoe, Sweden, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. ( Jonas Ekströmer/TT via AP)

Grown bigger

Hate speech remains more prolific and extreme on sites such as Parler and 4chan but is being introduced to young users on mainstream platforms, the study said.

On Instagram, where almost 70 percent of global users are aged 13 to 34, there are “millions” of results for hashtags relating to antisemitism, the research found.

On TikTok, where 69 percent of users are aged 16 to 24, it said a collection of three hashtags linked to antisemitism were viewed more than 25 million times in six months.

“There was an Instagram account where the young people in my city posted a lot of antisemitic things,” 18-year-old Johanna Gosenius told AFP, saying she had been targeted on another site.

In response to the report, a Facebook spokesperson said antisemitism was “completely unacceptable” and claimed to be have tightened policies on hate speech and Holocaust denial.

A TikTok spokesperson said the platform “condemns antisemitism” and would “keep strengthening our tools for fighting antisemitic content.”

According to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, nine out of 10 Jews in the EU say antisemitism has risen in their country and 38 percent have considered emigrating because they no longer feel safe.

Armed police guard patrol at the Malmo Fair, venue of the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism – Remember ReAct, in Malmo, Sweden, on October 13, 2021 (Photo by Jonas EKSTROMER / TT News Agency / AFP)

“Antisemitism takes the shape of extreme hatred on social networks,” said Ann Katina, the head of the Jewish Community of Malmo organization that runs two synagogues.

“It hasn’t just moved there, it has grown bigger there,” she told AFP.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has made the fight against antisemitism one of his last big initiatives before leaving office next month and has vowed better protection for Sweden’s 15,000-20,000 Jews.

General concern

Reports of antisemitic crimes in the Scandinavian country rose by more than 50 percent between 2016 and 2018, from 182 to 278, according to the latest statistics available from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

The Jewish community in Malmo has declined over the years, from more than 2,000 in 1970 to just over 600 now.

In the early 2000s, antisemitic attacks in Malmo made global headlines. Incidents included verbal insults, assaults and Molotov cocktails thrown at the synagogue.

In response, authorities vowed to boost police resources and increase funding to protect congregations under threat.

Danish Jews arrive in Malmo, Sweden, to show their solidarity with the city's Jewish community. (Photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)
Illustrative: Danish Jews arriving in Malmo, Sweden in September 2012 to show their solidarity with the city’s Jewish community. (Photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

“Once, a girl said about me ‘She’s Jewish, gas her’,” said 21-year-old Mira Kelber of Jewish Youth Malmo.

Mirjam Katzin, who coordinates efforts to combat antisemitism in Malmo schools — the only such position in Sweden — said there was “general concern” among Jews in the city.

“Some never experience any abuse, while others will hear the word ‘Jew’ used as an insult, jokes about Hitler or the Holocaust or various conspiracy theories,” she said.

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