Anti-Defamation League Takes On Hatred Online as Anti-Semitism Goes Viral

New Tactics Needed as Watchdog Enters Second Century

New Century: Vice President Joe Biden embraces ADL national director Abraham Foxman at the group’s centenary event.
New Century: Vice President Joe Biden embraces ADL national director Abraham Foxman at the group’s centenary event.

By JTA

Published June 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

How do you confront hatred when it has no fixed address?

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League national director, attempts to pin down an answer to the question in his latest book, “Viral Hate.”

Co-authored with privacy lawyer Christopher Wolf, the book chronicles the complications of countering hate on the Internet.

The takeaway? It’s up to us.

“Let’s take back responsibility for our culture — both online and off” is the book’s main conclusion. “Public involvement, concern, action, and, when necessary, outcry are key.”

Calling on the public to be alert and reactive to the dangers of bigotry is not new terrain for the ADL, which throughout its 100-year history has coupled behind-the-scenes suasions with public appeals to lobby leadership and engage with peers.

Yet while many of the book’s accounts of broad, spontaneous action against Internet hate speech end in triumph, Foxman’s reliance on more traditional ADL tactics in the digital age are less successful.

Efforts to engage with the powers that run the Internet — indeed, Foxman’s attempt to discover who those powers even are — peter out in frustration.

“We have been talking to the geniuses at Palo Alto,” Foxman said in an interview. “We have said to them, ‘thanks but no thanks. You developed a technology that has some wonderful things but also has unintended consequences.’ ”

Such dead ends do not mean the public is powerless, however. Foxman and Wolf cite the example of JuicyCampus, a gossip website brought to heel after direct appeals to the website went nowhere.

As the authors tell it, the website, established in 2007 as a clearinghouse for campus gossip, quickly devolved into speech replete with misogyny and race hatred. The site’s founding pledge to ban “unlawful, threatening, abusive, tortuous, defamatory, obscene, libelous or invasion of another person’s privacy” was honored mostly in the breach.

Efforts to ban its usage by the student government and administrators at Pepperdine University in Southern California — one of seven schools initially targeted by the site — kept rubbing up against First Amendment protections.

Ultimately, what led to the site’s demise was an independent campaign launched by a student at Pepperdine, a Christian school that does not allow alcohol on campus, urging boycotts of the site. The campaign went viral, advertisers abandoned the site and by February 2009 it folded.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.