ADL study finds harassment, antisemitic hate on ‘toxic’ US neighborhood Facebook groups

People talk near a Meta sign outside of the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
People talk near a Meta sign outside of the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Some Facebook groups in local communities have become “toxic sites of harassment,” for Jews, women, LGBTQ+ advocates, immigrants and people of color, the Anti-Defamation League says.

Researchers at the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society (CTS) examined Facebook groups or pages in three local regions — a suburban county outside New York City where neighbors organized against a growing Orthodox Jewish community, a town near Boston where there was backlash when a woman of color won a local election, and in a small town in Ohio where a reproductive rights activist running for the council was forced to leave their home amid harassment by extremist groups.

“Unlike other forms of online harassment, such as trolling campaigns where targets don’t know their perpetrators, targets of local harassment are more likely to interact with their harassers in everyday life, inhabiting the same town or region, and often know people in common, making this form of harassment even more harmful,” the report says.

In addition, ADL researchers examined the levels of antisemitic content in those online communities on Meta’s Facebook, and found they had 5-10 times as much antisemitic content as control pages.

“You are more likely to be harassed on Facebook than on other platforms, yet this harassment is rarely visible to researchers,” says Jordan Kraemer, גirector of Policy and Research, ADL Center for Technology and Society.

“Facebook has become a key platform for neighborhood news and discussion groups, serving as a new ‘public square.’ However, harassment remains rampant and reporting inefficient, with the platform rarely if ever taking action to protect the targets,” Kraemer says.

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