President Joe Biden, Elon Musk, and Imran Ahmed of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) (Getty Images)

White House And Dark Money NGO Hype Hate Crisis To Demand Censorship

by Alex Gutentag | Aug 29, 2023

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.”

The 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, the CCDH found that “Twitter fails to act on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers.” Since the 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 the 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 the CCDH has not updated its findings.

The 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%, while the number of white victims grew by 16%.” This suggests that an uptick in hate crimes may be related to the fact that the overall rate of violence has increased.

Like the CCDH, the NGO Stop AAPI Hate is also, according to Xu, “using questionable data, precut to fit their preferred narrative.” Rather than attempting 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 counterproductive. 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 the 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?

Censorship Makes Hate Worse


“It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust,” wrote MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, “to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”

In 1980, left-wing public intellectual Noam Chomsky famously defended the free speech rights of a French Holocaust denier named Robert Faurisson. That Faurisson might have held antisemitic views, wrote Chomsky, made it even more important to defend his civil rights. “It has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended,” Chomsky wrote.

A year later, in The Nation, Chomsky went further. The scandal, he said, was not his defense of a Holocaust denier’s speech rights, but that these rights were even being debated at all. For Chomsky, censorship was not a form of opposition to Nazi ideology, it was perfectly in line with it, and supporting free expression was a prerequisite for opposition to Nazism.

“It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers,” wrote Chomsky.

Today, the effort to clamp down on antisemitic “hate speech” is another poor service to their memory.

Fundamentally, there remains no evidence that speech (as opposed to mental illness, lack of law enforcement, and poverty) is the main cause of hate crime. What’s more, the misguided focus on preventing hate through censorship distracts us from the crucial work of addressing the underlying factors that lead to hate and violence.

For several years, I taught students of color in Brooklyn, most of whom lived below the poverty line. Some of them made antisemitic jokes and claimed to “hate” Jewish people. Their reason? Orthodox Jews, they said, were often their landlords.

The Jewish newspaper Forward published a letter from a tenant organizer about this unfortunate stereotype in 2013. “I hear a lot of anti-Semitic comments from tenants based on their experiences with landlords, the only visibly Jewish people with whom they have contact,” the organizer wrote.

My students were shocked to learn that the principal and some teachers at our school were Jewish because they genuinely did not know Jews could be secular or not ultra-Orthodox.

This may seem implausible in such a multicultural place, but the school system in New York City is the most segregated district in the country, and many of my students never left their neighborhood, let alone the borough.

Given that 97% of antisemitic attacks in New York City are perpetrated by other minorities, characterizing the national problem of antisemitism as solely driven by white supremacist “hate” actually prevents NGOs and authorities from tackling many of the actual root issues at the heart of antisemitic violence.

Forty-five years ago, prominent academics and lawyers rightly understood that free speech was the most important defense against tyranny. So why do so many ostensibly liberal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), reject this notion today?

With the advent of social media, institutions that once held a monopoly on shaping public opinion have been increasingly challenged by populist movements, general dissent, and the rise of independent journalists and influencers. With this loss of control has come a desire to abandon the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

Some elites feel they can only regain the influence they once had over public opinion through censorship. To justify this censorship, they need to paint the masses as dangerous and hateful.

The more politicians and NGOs convince us that we are facing an unprecedented crisis of hate, racism, and antisemitism, the more they can demand the right to restrict speech and thought.

The legacy media, which has lost much of its revenue and power in the digital age, is happy to assist in this effort by continuously equating speech with violence. In another era, journalists — people who make their living through words — may have been more cautious about widely pronouncing that words kill. Today it is commonplace for journalists to promote censorship because fact-checking, deplatforming, and vilifying social media users is one of the only ways mainstream media can maintain a financial and discursive advantage.

The CCDH, it turns out, is a dark money organization. It does not reveal its funding sources on its website and chose not to respond to Public’s specific questions about its financing. The CCDH also refused to answer our questions about its ties to government intelligence and security agencies, even though its former communications director was a CIA agent.

The CCDH is not the only NGO citing antisemitism to demand censorship. As Public previously reported, the Institute for Strategic Dialog (ISD) also attempted to browbeat Twitter/X into censoring users through accusations of rampant antisemitism on the platform. In its report, though, ISD included criticism of George Soros that did not mention his Jewish background as evidence of rising antisemitic speech.

If any criticism of Soros is antisemitic, the implication is that all Jewish people are represented by Soros, a highly controversial and widely disliked figure. This illustrates the way in which an overly broad definition of “antisemitism” or “hate” can actually encourage hate.

Skokie Standard For The Online World


Authors James Baldwin (l) and Norman Mailer (r) at a reception of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City on Monday evening avowing their support for first amendment-free speech rights guaranteed under the Constitution while under heavy fire for upholding Nazi rights to speak at Skokie, Illinois. At tonight’s ceremonies, at the private residence on New York’s East Side, ACLU Board Chairman Norman Dorsen honored a number of artists and writers with special freedom of speech awards. September 13, 1978. (Getty Images)

As the internet replaces the physical public square, social media companies now have the power to regulate speech that was once under the purview and protection of the courts. For this reason, although social media platforms are private companies, the same standards and best practices determined through decades of legal precedents should guide their speech policies.

In a landmark 1977 case, the Supreme Court affirmed the importance of speech and assembly rights for those with detestable views. When the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) planned a demonstration in Skokie, Illinois, where a large number of Holocaust survivors lived, the Cook County court placed an injunction on the assembly. The ACLU appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court, but neither of the courts responded to the ACLU’s filings. This allowed the courts to uphold a long-term prior restraint against the neo-Nazi demonstration and effectively prevent it from happening.

The U.S. Supreme Court then gave an unusual emergency order for the Illinois courts to decide on the injunction due to the extreme importance of First Amendment rights. As various lawsuits proceeded, the Illinois courts were forced to rule that the neo-Nazis had a constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

David Goldberg, the Jewish ACLU lawyer who represented the NSPA, wrote about the case in 2020. “I remember being attacked repeatedly as a traitorous Jew,” he said. At times, Goldberg feared for his safety due to the backlash he received.

But Goldberg also received some unexpected support. “There were times when, during speeches I gave about the Skokie case, Holocaust survivors courageously stood up to say that I was right to have represented the Nazis,” he wrote. “These survivors said that they did not want the Nazis driven underground by speech-repressive laws or court injunctions. They explained that they wanted to be able to see their enemies in plain sight so they would know who they were.”

The power to censor Nazis, Goldberg explained, could apply to any other group. This is at the heart of why “hate speech” must be allowed in almost all instances. If Twitter/X begins to vigorously censor “hate speech” at the behest of NGOs like the CCDH or government actors like President Biden, more and more social media posts will be classified as “hateful” or dangerous, including for opportunistic political reasons, opening the door to endless censorship.

The Skokie ruling should be the model for online platforms. You don’t have to go out and listen to the neo-Nazis. You can stay in your home; you can block them online. But what you can’t do is prevent the neo-Nazis from speaking because if we deny them that right, then we become like them. Just as the Holocaust survivors told Goldberg, hearing people’s real views shows us the world as it is. And importantly, if those ideas remain permanently in the shadows, we cannot challenge them.

Hateful ideas need to be expressed and aired out so that they can be defeated. When my students in Brooklyn made antisemitic comments, I quickly and without judgment explained why their comments were based on generalizations and misconceptions. If my students had never been able to express what they thought or ask me questions, would anyone have ever explained to them that they didn’t need to “hate” Jewish people? Or that, unbeknownst to them, there were many Jewish people in their lives that they liked already?

The support Goldberg received from Holocaust survivors in the years after the Skokie case left a major impression on him. “Their statements were like lights in the darkness of anger and misunderstanding,” he said.

Today, this anger and misunderstanding continues. Often, those who defend the right to hate speech are accused of supporting the content of that speech itself when nothing could be further from the truth.

Like many people with a Jewish background, I grew up with warnings about my family’s experience of antisemitism and the Holocaust. It is not in spite of but because of these warnings that I know the importance of free speech. Today, in the name of denazification and countering hate, we are moving ever closer to the doctrines of intolerance and book burning that the Nazis espoused.

The White House and the CCDH do not have complete or reliable data about hate and antisemitism, but even if they did, their proposed censorship would not remedy the situation. It would likely increase distrust, exacerbate tensions, and prevent us from addressing the real causes of increasing violence.

The good news is that Jews are actually the most popular religious group in the country. Despite dire warnings about rising antisemitism, in 2023, Americans gave Jews the highest favorability rating of any religious group. Most people, it turns out, are not actually full of hate for minorities. Most people are tolerant, and most people can handle hearing views they don’t like.

If we really care about preventing hate, we need hateful views to be out in the open. We need to encourage open dialog and debate to counter those views. And above all, we need to defend the human right to free speech for those we disagree with most.

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