Elon Musk's Takeover Might Make Twitter More Antisemitic, ADL Chief Warns

While Twitter has made 'some strides in tackling hate in recent years,' multibillionaire Musk could take things in a 'very different direction,' Jonathan Greenblatt says

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Elon Musk attends the opening of a Tesla factory in Germany, last month.
Elon Musk attends the opening of a Tesla factory in Germany, last month.Credit: Patrick Pleul/Pool Photo via AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Monday warned that Elon Musk's $44 billion acquisition of Twitter could lead to a rise in anti-Jewish extremism.

"We know firsthand that hate and extremism in digital spaces can lead to physical violence, particularly against Jews and other marginalized communities," Greenblatt said.

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"Twitter has made some strides in tackling this hate in recent years. So while we want to be cautiously optimistic about how Elon Musk will run the platform, he hasn't demonstrated any focus on these issues to date. We worry he could take things in a very different direction," he added.

Greenblatt noted that "as a private company, Twitter will lack the transparency and accountability of a public firm. It strikes me as deeply troubling and potentially dangerous that two people — Musk & Mark Zuckerberg — essentially control the public square. Seems like a sad day for democracy."

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said when announcing his acquisition on Monday.

In its 2021 online antisemitism report card, the ADL noted Twitter earned the highest marks for data accessibility through their Application Programming Interface that enables researches to study the prevalence of antisemitism on the platform. It also noted, however, that Twitter had not taken action on content ADL reported through ordinary user channels, though it did so through its trusted flagger program.

Greenblatt's warnings were followed by his organization's annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which reported an all-time high in antisemitic incidents in 2021, up 34 percent from 2020. "Assaults – considered the most serious incident type because it involves person-on-person physical violence triggered by antisemitic animus – increased 167 percent, jumping to a total of 88 reports in 2021 from 33 in 2020. Incidents of harassment were up 43 percent, and acts of antisemitic vandalism rose 14 percent," the ADL noted.

While antisemitic incidents were reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 58 percent of the total incidents occurred in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas. Meanwhile, 18 percent of the total number of incidents were attributed to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology.

The ADL also highlighted a "substantial surge" in reported antisemitic events during the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas, while noting that anti-Israel sentiment did not account for most of the 2021 incidents. “When it comes to antisemitic activity in America, you cannot point to any single ideology or belief system, and in many cases, we simply don’t know the motivation,” Greenblatt said. “But we do know that Jews are experiencing more antisemitic incidents than we have in this country in at least 40 years, and that’s a deeply troubling indicator of larger societal fissures.”

The organization's audit "includes both criminal and non-criminal acts of harassment and intimidation, including distribution of hate propaganda, threats and slurs, as well as vandalism and assault," and is compiled using information provided by victims, law enforcement and community leaders and evaluated by the organization’s professional staff.

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