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23 Okt 2023

Kiara Alfonseca, ABC

USA: Homeland security experts fear increase of antisemitic, anti-Muslim & anti-Palestinian hate speech amid siege on Gaza

"Experts fear hate, extremism on social media amid Israel-Hamas war", 23 October 2023

The impacts of the war between Israel and Hamas are compounding in the United States, as hateful online rhetoric has homeland security experts concerned about the spread of extremist ideologies in the U.S.

Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities are fearful, and law enforcement agencies are on high alert amid the heightened tensions worldwide.

Online misinformation about the war and these communities is top of mind for many homeland security experts, who say it's playing a big part in inciting extremism, violence and hate.

John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security official and ABC News contributor, believes online hate activity has been fueling terrorism and extremism during recent times of political polarization as hateful content oversaturates social media platforms.

Hateful messages can spread quickly online, landing in front of unsuspecting viewers who may not initially even realize they're engaging with anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian or antisemitic content, according to former DHS official and ABC New contributor Elizabeth Neumann.

"It works its way into both dark places on the internet, as well as mainstream platforms," Neumann said.

The Department of Homeland Security has warned that more and more antisemitic and Islamophobic hate attacks have been occurring in the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, including the stabbing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy and his mother in Illinois.

However, Neumann and other experts believe that pinning the threat on lone actors misrepresents the online communities behind the spread of extremist viewpoints.

This is not a new phenomenon, experts point out. But social media has made it easier and faster for hateful rhetoric or conspiracy theories to spread.

The European Commission has formally requested information from several social media giants on their handling of content related to the Israel-Hamas war, according to statements from the commission.

The increase in hate has put leaders in the Arab and Jewish communities in the U.S. on high alert.

Abed A. Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said his organization is focused on combating the online misconceptions around the Arabic and Muslim communities during this time. Uplifting the voices of Palestinians, particularly those under siege by Israeli forces, and fighting against their erasure is top of mind, he said.

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