Journalist Michael Shellenberger and the organisation he runs, Public, argue that the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and corporate news media are weaponizing accusations of antisemitism to further their political and financial agendas. CCDH is pushing for more censorship of hate speech, claiming it is the only way to combat the increasing crisis. However, the evidence to support such claims is lacking. The CCDH “report” was comprised of a blog post less than 900 words long, based on a review of 100 Tweets. Data from the FBI suggests that hate crimes and incidents, particularly antisemitic incidents, are increasing. However, the vast majority of “antisemitic hate offenses” tracked by the FBI are incidents of intimidation or of property damage and vandalism, and there is no credible evidence to suggest that antisemitic speech on platforms like Twitter/X causes this violence.
Censorship will only endanger the Jewish people and other minorities, not protect them. The Biden Administration and CCDH are exploiting the problem of antisemitism to push for the restriction of speech online, while liberals have abandoned the principle of free speech. MIT linguist Noam Chomsky argued that such censorship is a “poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust,” as it mirrors the same central doctrine of their murderers.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate and corporate news media are weaponizing accusations of antisemitism to advance political and financial agendas
Hate and antisemitism are sharply increasing, say the Biden administration, journalists, NGOs, and the FBI. Groups like the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit, claim that censorship is the only way to combat this crisis.
In July, Biden announced a new agenda to fight rising antisemitism, which includes enforcing more censorship of hate speech. The White House is now “[calling] on Congress to hold social media platforms accountable for spreading hate-fueled violence.”
CCDH has successfully pressured advertisers into boycotting Twitter (now called X) in an effort to force the company into restoring the “content moderation” policies it had in place before Elon Musk purchased it. In a report published on June 1, CCDH found that “Twitter fails to act on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers.” Since CCDH started its pro-censorship campaign, Twitter/X has lost 60-70% of its total advertising revenue.
“The Twitter blue tick used to be a sign of authority and authenticity, but it is now inextricably linked to the promotion of hate and conspiracism,” said CCDH’s CEO Imran Ahmed, who says he started his group after online radicalization led a man named Thomas Mair to kill former British MP Jo Cox. “Our society has benefited from decades of progress on tolerance, but Elon Musk is undoing those norms at an ever-accelerating rate by allowing hate to prosper on the spaces he administers.”
But there is not adequate data to support these claims. Though media outlets promoted the CCDH “report” about hate speech on Twitter/X, it was comprised entirely of a blog post less than 900 words long, based on a review of a scant 100 Tweets. By comparison, 500 million Tweets are sent every day.
The CCDH “report” showcases ten examples of racist and antisemitic posts, but it does not make the other 91 Tweets it supposedly analyzed available. Of these ten examples, seven of them had fewer than 50 “likes,” and two had only about 50 views. Three of the accounts featured in the report have since been suspended, but CCDH has not updated its findings.
CCDH’s disinformation and censorship advocacy should not blind us to real-world hatred. It is true that, according to data from the FBI, hate crimes and incidents are increasing, particularly antisemitic incidents. It is also true that physical assaults on Hasidic Jews in New York City have reached their highest levels in years. Like many Jewish people and other observers, I am disturbed by this trend.
At the same time, we should be evidence-based and make sure people know that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, violence motivated by antisemitism killed a single person in 2022. While all murders are a tragedy, it’s worth noting that the victim was not, in fact, Jewish, and the perpetrator had a history of violence unrelated to antisemitism.
And even while hatred and violence against Hasidic Jews is a real issue in New York City, there is no credible evidence to suggest that antisemitic speech on platforms like Twitter/X causes this violence. As Liel Leibovitz pointed out in Tablet, The New York Times has published several articles criticizing the Orthodox community based on misleading or exaggerated claims, so it can easily be argued that the paper of record is itself guilty of promoting hatred toward religious Jews. But no one is calling for The New York Times to be censored, nor should they.
Although the FBI states that antisemitic attacks are “driven by a belief in the superiority of the white race,” data from Americans Against Antisemitism shows that 97% of antisemitic assaults in New York City from 2018-2022 were perpetrated by other minorities.
There are also many complex factors behind increasing hate crimes and antisemitic incidents. Violence, in general, is rising. Writing in City Journal earlier this month, Kenny Xu explained that “FBI data show that many races were affected by the recent nationwide increase in violence. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of black victims of homicide rose by 28 percent, while the number of white victims grew by 16 percent.” This suggests that an uptick in hate crimes may be related to the fact that the overall rate of violence has increased.
Like CCDH, the NGO Stop AAPI Hate is also, according to Xu, “using questionable data, precut to fit their preferred narrative.” Rather than attempt to address the actual policies and issues that have led to growing violence against Asians and Hasidic Jews, NGOs, and the FBI are lumping local problems of crime and public safety together with non-violent and ill-defined hate “incidents” or “offenses.”
Bomb threats against synagogues and physical assaults are serious matters that the FBI must investigate and work to prevent. However, the vast majority of the antisemitic hate offenses the FBI tracks through its Crime Data Explorer are incidents of intimidation or of property damage and vandalism.
While these incidents are concerning, it is important to note that intimidation is often determined through self-reporting and is subject to concept creep, which is exacerbated by the tendency of younger generations to define harm much more expansively than older ones. As Xu pointed out, illusions of increasing hate can easily be created through self-report systems. The more panic is drummed up about hate, the more likely it is that people will submit hate incident reports.
In several back-and-forth emails with Public, the FBI declined to provide the specific data the White House had used to source its claim that Jews “are the victims of 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes.” Wrote an FBI spokesperson in a response to Public, “We do not comment on figures provided by other entities.”
Regardless of whether or not antisemitism is increasing, neither the White House nor the FBI provided any proof that antisemitic incidents were tied to social media. After decades of research and debate, there remains little good evidence that consuming hateful material, whether in the form of books, videos, or social media posts, causes people to act violently in the real world. It is specious to attribute violent behavior to something a person watched or read rather than to some other factor. For example, mental illness more than politics may have led Thomas Maier to kill MP Jo Cox.
Censorship will never be a viable solution for combating hate. The left-liberal consensus used to be that censoring hate speech was not only a violation of civil liberties but was also counter-productive. Prohibiting people from speaking openly can backfire by pushing them into echo chambers where hateful ideas will not be challenged and where extremism can flourish.
Censorship will not protect Jewish people and other minorities; it will endanger them. The Biden Administration and CCDH are cynically exploiting the real and complex problem of antisemitism to push a misleading political narrative and to strongarm social media platforms into restricting speech online. Why are non-profits and politicians trying to force Twitter/X into a new censorship regime, and why have liberals abandoned the principles of free speech (even for ideas we loathe) — a principle that has guided democracies for centuries?