Neo-Nazis are exploiting a gap in the community guidelines of the photo-sharing platform Instagram.
A Faith Matters investigation has uncovered a clandestine network of individuals spreading antisemitic memes on the platform. The self-styled ‘Pro Defamation League’ (Pro_Defamation_League) account, for example, has not been removed from Instagram, despite having several posts removed for breaching Community Guidelines.
As with any self-reporting platform, Instagram requires its user base to report harmful and hateful content. Instagram makes clear in its Community Guidelines that it “is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups.” The guidelines stress a zero-tolerance approach to hate speech, but may allow its publication if the purpose of it being shared is “to challenge it or to raise awareness”.
Yet, the Pro_Defamation_League account serves no positive function. It’s just the unfettered, unfiltered and unrepentant antisemitism one expects to find on neo-Nazi forums, hate sites, and the dark corners of 4Chan. But on Instagram, old hatreds are repackaged as hateful, violent memes.
A second problem with reporting hateful content on Instagram concerns its reporting protocols. Users can report hate speech, but it falls within the broad category of ‘Bullying and Harassment’.
Accounts like Pro_Defamation_League avoid targeting Jewish users directly to avoid breaching Community Guidelines. Yet, their true intent is self-evident, and ultimately harmful.
Perhaps the most popular image in this network concerns the ‘antisemitic meme of the Jew’. According the Australian charity, the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), this racist caricature is over a decade old. It depicts a bearded Jewish man with a long-hooked nose. The author of this image uses the pseudonym “A. Wyatt Mann”. His identity has been the subject of speculation, denial and counter-claims. Its original iteration had compared Jewish and black communities to rats and cockroaches. It appeared on the White Aryan Resistance hate site in 2004.
Now in 2017, its stock as a meme continues to endure, thanks in part to its re-appropriation and plagiarism on social media. One such example includes a post made by the Pro_Defamation_League on January 10, 2017. This antisemitic meme of a Jewish man is doctored onto an image of the goat-headed winged hermaphrodite known as Baphomet. The origins of Baphomet date back to the time of the Crusades and the torture of the Knights Templar. According to French chroniclers, the Knights Templar confessed to worshipping this idol.
Yet, the doctored image of Baphomet concerns the 1856 drawing by French occultist Eliphas Levi. But an image search confirms that the image pre-dates the Pro_Defemation_League account. An online search of the term “Jewphomet” pulls you deeper into the antisemitic rabbit hole. It brings you to the hate site the “International Goyim Party”. A site who posted the “Jewphomet” image on July 26, 2015.
A secondary example of plagiarism found on pages like the Pro_Defamation_League concerns Ben Garrison. Writing for the OHPI in 2014, Mr Garrison detailed how neo-Nazis often steal his cartoons to reinforce antisemitic canards. Yet, as Sarah Brown pointed out in 2014, Mr Garrison is perhaps “unaware of the connotations of the words and images he uses.”
Other memes circulate toxic conspiracies about Israeli involvement in the 9/11 attacks and other international acts of terrorism. The Holocaust is ridiculed and outright denied. Memes about Israel are often interchangeable in their antisemitic intent.
Michael Barkun’s ‘A Culture of Conspiracy’ outlines how the internet erodes our ability to distinguish between mainstream and fringe news sources. For individuals drawn to racist ideologies, the internet functions as means to build communities, network, and reinforce echo chambers. It’s one of the reasons why Stormfront became so successful and notorious after its launch in 1995.
The inherent social nature of platforms like Instagram, arguably, intensifies such online behaviour, which in the end, reinforce certain echo chambers.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that one such account the Pro_Defamation_League follows is the ‘zionist-report,’ a page which borrows from the same script: where Israel and Jewish communities are behind major acts of terrorism or in control of politics. An example of this antisemitic canard invokes the Nazi-era propaganda of the octopus. Nazi propaganda of this era had warned against the ‘Jewish octopus of Bolshevism’. Now their political enemies of the twentieth century are reimagined for modern audiences. This canard replaces the Bolsheviks with “pro-Zionist eurocrats in Brussels”. This intends to pacify and normalise its overt antisemitic message.
Nor does it take long to find Holocaust denial to appear on the account. On December 10, 2016, the account posted: “Tell me #lies, tell me sweet little #lies. The #AnnFrank story is just another piece of the #Holohoax industry.”
The meme adds that ballpoint pens were not invented until 1951. This theory took on a life of its own decades later in extreme-right circles. But it was later discredited during a trial of neo-Nazis in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1980.
Researchers from the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation forensically authenticated Anne Frank’s diary in the 1980s. Miss Frank did most of her writings in grey-blue ink for fountain pens in which iron was present. The manufacturing of fountain pen ink without iron or trace amounts of iron were not introduced until after 1950. The two-pages of ballpoint annotations were not added until the graphological study of Anne Frank’s writings in 1960. In 2016, federal police in Germany issued a press release stating that their 1980 investigation cannot be used to question the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary.
That one example of a Holocaust denial received 80 ‘likes’. This number may seem small, but it should not be dismissed. While the hashtag #Holohoax only contains 9 posts, other similar hashtags are proving more popular on Instagram. The hashtag #holohoaxexposed, for example, appears 353 times on Instagram. Its enduring appeal owes in part to the nature of underground subcultures. This is partly achieved with unrelated hashtags. Some spread Holocaust denial with the hashtag #911wasaninsidejob – a hashtag with over 56,000 posts. It may not guarantee success, but it exposes individuals to unfamiliar ideas, which they may accept under the umbrella concept of ‘stigmatized knowledge’. In short, this theory suggests that this form of knowledge appears compelling because of its faux empiricism and the promise of knowledge which remains ‘valid’ despite its rejection from mainstream institutions.
Dr Nicholas Terry, a history lecturer at Exeter University, warns that Holocaust deniers are recruiting individuals drawn to other conspiracy theories such as the Sandy Hook school massacre.
In response to the Faith Matters investigation, an Instagram spokesman said: “There is no place for hate speech on Instagram.
We review all reports and move quickly to remove content that violates our Community Guidelines.”
Instagram has now removed the accounts @national.socialism1933 and @redpillprincess1 for breaches of community standards.
The company urges members of the public to report offensive content or profiles for review. Instagram has reassured Faith Matters that the review team monitor content daily and will not hesitate to remove content when it is found to breach community guidelines.