Last week, news broke on TMZ.com that four flight attendants were suing Delta Airlines for “a pattern of intentionally discriminating and retaliating against ethnically Jewish, Hebrew and/or Israeli employees and passengers.” The story was quickly picked up by other media outlets, and while the merits of the case will be decided in court, the online response to the suit was disturbing.
The first comment on the TMZ piece reads, “Palestinians for equality, kill all Jews.” A reader with a Harvey Weinstein avatar writes, “Delta is not anti semite!...in order to make up for this misunderstanding, all Jewish employees have been given a free one way ticket to Auschwitz, Germany...”
A commenter talks about not wanting to sit next to Jews on a plane because they smell bad, while DefenderofIsrael writes, “I’m assuming they knew they were jewish because they traveled coach and didn’t tip.” Someone invokes “the oven.”
TMZ’s rules for comments read: “We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to hate speech. This includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic and other comments containing hateful words.”
Either this zero-tolerance policy was ignored in this case, or the site, which is helmed by Jewish editor Harvey Levin, does not consider anti-Semitic remarks to be hate speech. (TMZ did not return a request for comment as of press time.)
TMZ was not the only media outlet that received anti-Semitic remarks in response to the story. On Fox News, the comments seem to have been moderated, but some unpleasant remarks remain, such as, “It would be amusing if it weren’t so irritating how jews always whine ‘anti-semitism’ every time someone fails to bow to them and shower them with money.”
Every online publisher faces the question of what to do about comments. Some outlets have done away with comments altogether. Others moderate in advance or monitor in real time so that hate speech and personal attacks can be deleted. Some publications use Facebook’s commenting plug-in, which supposedly prevents people from hiding behind anonymity. Yet hateful people are remarkably determined to have their say, and create dummy Facebook identities to do so.
There are plenty of options for media outlets to handle this, but TMZ — a media juggernaut with bus tours, a TV show and millions of fans worldwide — has allowed this destructive, painful conversation to thrive on their site.
Some will question why it matters, or even argue that it’s better to see what our enemies are thinking. But TMZ draws a lot of young readers to its pages, kids who are still trying to work things out about people they may not know. And readers shouldn't be exposed to hate every time they seek the news.
Ignoring hate speech isn’t easy, as I found when I recently started to play the live mobile game HQ Trivia. The game's players comment live, whether to provide help with a question or ask for a birthday shout-out from Jewish host Scott Rogowski. The communal conversation is part of what defines the HQ experience.
Yet I had to stop playing because so many of the comments were about Jews. The most common seemed to be “Kill the Jews,” though swastika emojis were also popular. The app allows you to hide the comments, but then you’re missing out on what makes the app unique. With so many young people playing this game, I wonder about the effect of this constant drumbeat of Jew hatred.
In 2017, the two biggest stories in the news about anti-Semitism were incidences of Jewish cemetery vandalism (Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis) and bomb threats to JCCs. Communal reponse was swift: Rallies were held, monies donated, partnerships formed, statements released.
It should be noted, however, that we do not know for sure that the cemetery vandalism was motivated by anti-Semitism. In fact, a historical survey of such incidents in the Jewish Exponent found the majority of cemetery vandalism was perpetrated by rowdy kids without an agenda. The bomb threats, we learned, were fake, most called in by a Jewish Israeli teenager.
This is not to say that these events didn’t deserve our attention. But I wonder at the lack of similar attention paid to the everyday online hate I saw on TMZ and HQ Trivia. Have we become complacent? Or does the problem just seem too vast?
The ADL has guidelines for countering cyberhate, but making incremental change is the work of individuals — people willing to reply to comments and create sdialogue; people willing to call a company to say, “This isn’t right.”
Organizations can only do so much. But if the internet is indeed the wild West, we need to get on our horses and become anti-hate cowboys. We cannot allow this vitriol to flourish. JN
Liz Spikol is the editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media.