Instagram and TikTok are “introducing” teenagers to anti-Semitism, a new report has found, as researchers warned that algorithms were leading users down a “rabbit hole of political extremism”.
A study by the anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate found the social networks were allowing hashtags closely linked with anti-Semitic tropes such as #JewWorldOrder and #synagogueofsatan.
Researchers also discovered that people were using filters and emojis to make anti-Jewish and Israeli content on the apps.
The report found anti-Jewish content being widely published on a variety of social networks from the message board site Reddit to the messaging app Telegram.
However, it said the spread of it on Facebook-owned Instagram and TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was particularly concerning due to the apps’ popularity with children as young as 13.
On Instagram, researchers found that despite the tech company’s clear policies banning content claiming that Jewish people “run the world”, it was “easy” to find material on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The report warned that the anti-Semitic tropes were often embedded hashtags linked seemingly to broader conspiracies of clandestine world domination, such as #illuminati and #NWO (new world order).
However, the study also found that Instagram’s algorithms often suggested that users looking at these hashtags would recommend “far-Right accounts”, further pushing anti-Semitic content.
It stated: “[Instagram’s recommendation algorithms] can also play a disturbing role in guiding users down a rabbit hole of political extremism.”
Political topics discussed in emotive terms
Meanwhile, the report also warned that TikTok’s format, showing users a rapid succession of short clips usually less than a minute long, meant that political topics were often discussed in terse and emotive terms “leaving little or no room for a differentiated discussion of complex issues”.
Researchers said this partisan content was particularly interesting to young people and was often their introduction to political topics.
However, the organisation found that while TikTok banned explicitly anti-Semitic hashtags such as #killthejews, others such as #rothschildfamily, #synagogueofsatan and #soros have been viewed 25.1 million times in six months.
Emojis, such as showing a shoe and the Israeli flag, were also being used to mark anti-Semitic content, and in some cases TikTok users were using filters that made them look like pop star Lady Gaga while making comments about “zionists”.
Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope Not Hate, said: “It’s simply astounding that despite 10 years of attempts to eradicate hate speech, we were able to find anti-Semitism on every social media platform we investigated.
“While social media companies have been struggling to get their act together, a new generation of social media users have been introduced to anti-Semitic ideas they would be unlikely to encounter elsewhere.”
‘Anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable’
A spokesman for TikTok said: “TikTok condemns anti-Semitism, and we work aggressively to combat hate by proactively removing accounts and content that violate our policies and redirecting searches for hateful ideologies to our community guidelines.”
An Instagram spokesman added: “Anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable and we don’t allow it anywhere on Instagram.
“We’ve always removed attacks against people based on their religion, and last year we made important updates to our policies, to remove any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, as well as more implicit hate speech, such as harmful stereotypes that Jewish people control the world.”