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Social media platforms struggle to control the spread of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic COVID-related conspiracy theories, report says


An anti-Semitic infographic found on Twitter by IFFSE researchers. Photo: IFFSE / screenshot

The continued spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories on social media opens up new avenues for anti-Semitic and Islamophobic narratives, a new report from the Institute for Freedom of Faith and Security in Europe (IFFSE) warned.

The report, which analyzed anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as “intersecting” phenomena, found that 18 months after the outbreak of the pandemic, anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim narratives linked to COVID continue to be created, disseminated and easily accessible by the public on social networks. media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“Many community leaders, experts and intergovernmental officials involved in this research have expressed the opinion that social media companies are profiting from the hate speech broadcast on their platforms, to the detriment of Jewish and Muslim communities facing continuing prejudices and threats. more numerous. religious freedoms, ”the report says.

Based in Munich and Brussels, the Institute for Freedom of Faith and Security in Europe describes itself as a “multidisciplinary think tank” and is an initiative of the Conference of European Rabbis.

The group found that among some European religious communities, particularly in Germany, there is an increased perceived threat among Jews and Muslims, with online hatred translating into a real fear of publicly expressing their faith.

Echoing other studies conducted during the pandemic, the report cites accounts online, including the idea that Jews are orchestrating COVID-19 in order to seize power, or profit financially from the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. On Instagram alone, the #jewworldorder hashtag had 13,900 related posts, 16 months after the outbreak of the global pandemic. Posts with hashtags that included the phrase “New World Order” in English, French, Spanish and German totaled more than 45,000 as of July 2021.

Meanwhile, the report uncovered Islamophobic content on social media accusing Muslims of being unclean or of deliberately spreading the coronavirus. Many media users have been seen falsely alleging that Muslims are deliberately spreading COVID-19 as a form of “biological jihad”, or claiming that Muslim communities have been allowed to bypass COVID-19 restrictions because authorities fear being seen as critical of Islam.

The report said social media companies seemed overwhelmed by the “new wave of racism online” and that despite some efforts to act, they showed insufficient “will or effectiveness”.

“While few explicitly violent or terrorist actions have been linked to the COVID conspiracy movement, violence has played a role in the language used on social media. This is a large-scale problem that, and rightly so, is receiving considerable attention at this time. The evidence has been clearly presented, now social media companies must act, ”urged Hannah Rose, author of the report.

A number of key policy recommendations for social media companies, governments and civil society have been proposed, including the need to report anti-Semitic and Islamophobic content in the same way as disinformation related to COVID.

“We know that the technology is available and that platforms recognize the potential for offline harm of COVID disinformation, this must now be applied to racism online,” demanded Rose.

In addition, governments should introduce new legislation to regulate social media platforms and include sufficient funding to encourage its success, as well as create penalties for non-compliance, it was requested.

“Muslim and Jewish communities should engage in meaningful and productive interfaith work on the common threats both communities face,” suggests the report.

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