April 11, 2022
Over a hundred million American adults read news on social media, but in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine, antisemitism, hate speech, and disinformation have spread widely on Facebook. ADL researchers found evidence of the continued presence of problematic posts on the platform, the most popular site for getting news, as well as the prevalence of external links directing users to alternative platforms and sites popular among extremists. Roughly 61% of these posts included links to other sites, and we examined where these links went; they direct users to sites with meaningful amounts of hateful, false or otherwise harmful content. In terms of frequency, the external links on Facebook rival those to credible news sources.
While Twitter blocks links to hate speech and violence, Facebook has no such policy. Instead, it allows posts to link to conspiracies, antisemitic content, and other troubling material.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, social media platforms quickly responded by updating their content moderation policies to fit a wartime context. While many of these efforts are welcomed and have helped reduce disinformation, some have sown confusion and drawn criticism.
Meta’s failure to adequately respond to antisemitism on its major platform is part of a broader pattern of its negligence in moderating such hate speech. ADL gave Facebook a “C-” in our 2021 Online Antisemitism Report Card for its lackluster policies and enforcement against anti-Jewish hate; in our Online Holocaust Denial Report Card, ADL rated Facebook a “D.” Some conversations on Facebook surrounding President Zelensky and Ukraine are distorted and seek to blame Jewish people for the war through oft-repeated antisemitic conspiracies about the Great Reset and George Soros.
Spreading Antisemitism and Disinformation Through Links
ADL pulled a sample of English-language public Facebook posts from February 28 to March 30, 2022, which mentioned both a Ukraine-conflict related term (e.g., Zelensky, Ukraine, Russia, Putin) and one or more terms from a list of Jewish-related terms (e.g., Jewish, Israel, Zionism) or terms related to Nazis. We used CrowdTangle, a social media data collection tool. We chose these terms because they all could come up benignly in conversations given the nature of the conflict (e.g., Zelensky as one of a few Jewish heads of state; Israel’s role in negotiation; discussion of Zionism related to Ukrainian refugees in Israel; and Russia’s claim of “denazification” as a pretense for war). In addition, we pulled posts that referenced the war along with New World Order conspiracies (e.g., NWO, ZOG, Deep State, Cabal) or conspiracies about Jewish control (e.g., Soros, Rothschilds).
We obtained a sample of 25,783 results, 18,510 of which matched the Jewish-related terms. It is important to note that CrowdTangle only pulls posts from public groups, pages, and verified profiles, a significant limitation given the amount of hate and disinformation in private posts and groups on Facebook.
When we looked at conflict-related posts with terms like Jewish, Israel and Nazism, 9% of posts had links that went to concerning websites and platforms. Given the terms’ relevance to the conflict, one would expect significant linking to appropriate news media. However, links to Rumble were shared roughly as often as links to The Guardian. Links to Gab outnumbered links to CNN. Links to Russian state-sponsored news entities (RT, Kremlin, TASS, and Sputnik) were almost as common as links to Reuters and Associated Press.
Rumble and Bitchute are video-sharing platforms filled with violent and conspiratorial content that act as alternatives to YouTube. Gab is an online forum that has been popular among some of the most notorious recent terrorists, such as the shooters responsible for the massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue and the Christchurch mosques. Gab was banned from Apple’s and Google’s app stores for hosting extremist content.
These problematic sites help fuel Russia’s disinformation campaigns. The most frequently linked Rumble video promotes the widely debunked biolab conspiracy theory, which alleged Ukraine was developing biological weapons with help from the U.S. It also tells viewers that the Jewish American financier and philanthropist George Soros orchestrated a coup in Ukraine in 2014 and then installed President Zelensky in 2019. Soros, a Holocaust survivor originally from Hungary, is a common bogeyman for far-right extremists who claim he is at the heart of a global conspiracy.
The most shared Gab link directs users to a forum that warns of a “Zionist New World Order” and insists Russia is liberating Ukrainians from Soros, global bankers and pedophiles. Antisemites frequently use the words “Zionist” and “Jews” interchangeably. Various pinned posts on the channel refer to a global conspiracy to murder 80 percent of the population with poisonous Covid-19 vaccines that includes various world governments, including Ukraine.
Posts Connecting War to Common Antisemitic Themes and Tropes
In addition to looking at outbound links, ADL researchers ran the sample of posts through the Online Hate Index (OHI) to identify a subsample of antisemitic posts related to the war. The OHI is a set of machine learning classifiers developed by ADL that detect hate targeting marginalized groups on online platforms. The OHI antisemitism classifier draws upon the knowledge of both ADL’s antisemitism experts and Jewish community volunteers who may have experienced antisemitism. We then reviewed these posts to identify the following antisemitic themes related to President Zelensky and Ukraine that have spread across Facebook.
The persistence of antisemitism in Facebook posts related to Ukraine and President Zelensky suggest that for many, Jewish people are once again the scapegoat for current events and conflicts. In one post a Facebook poster asked God to “protect DIVINE RUSSIANS… and all nations from the satanic English and American leaders of Jewish descent.” The post ends with a call to violence stating that “the English leaders and American leaders of Jewish descent with their satanic organizations must be destroyed.”
Another wrote, “countries which are controlled by zionists, either openly or secretly, condemn Russia. What do you expect? Of course they support Ukraine: Ukraine’s President is a jew, of course (((((they))))) suport (((((their))))) own.” These repeated parentheses, also known as the echo symbol, are frequently used by antisemites online to indicate Jewish ties.
Within this sample of concerning posts, several themes and conspiracies emerge including the Great Reset, George Soros, the Khazarian invasion, and extreme anti-Israel commentary.
The Great Reset
Many posts related to the war play on classic antisemitic tropes and conspiracies of Jewish control and blame Jewish people for the war.
Many posts mentioned the Great Reset, a popular conspiracy that emerged in 2020. The conspiracy’s adherents warn that “global elites” plan to use the pandemic to uproot American prosperity and create a new global society and economy that benefits them. As the conflict in Ukraine dominates news headlines, a new iteration of the conspiracy has emerged, suggesting that globalists intend to use the war to trigger a Great Reset.
As with the original conspiracy, this new iteration often espouses antisemitism, with many suggesting that Jewish people are at the center of the conspiracy, pulling the world’s strings. One user stressed that the current conflict is not about Ukraine’s sovereignty but rather Russia’s. “Russia and China reject the idea of the West’s ‘Great Rest’... Because they will “NEVER” surrender the sovereignty over to Zionist Central Banks and Globalist institutions.” Another Facebook user wrote, “Resist the WEF [World Economic Forum] Great Reset, Zionism and satanic bloodlines who freely control the world narratives. Russia and Ukraine are being used as a pretence [sic] to inflate world prices and crash the economy, to set the stage for digital currency/ digital ID.” The user then directs his followers to join his Telegram channel.
In another example, a poster ties this conspiracy directly back to Jewish people and writes, “the Great Reset or NWO that everyone had known about for years was designed so you WOULD know about it. They want you focused on what appears to be Satan taking over the world. Through this Russian Ukraine, Vatican, US ignited world war.” The user then goes on to explain that this conflict and other world events are signs of the “end times”and will lead to the devil appearing. They suggest that the Jewish people are “chosen by the devil” and that they “accept him, and the worlds [sic] leaders who also worship the Jewish God of Satan will also give their power to Israel.”
In many of these posts, George Soros is portrayed as a driving force behind the conflict in Ukraine. In the context of the war between Russia and Ukraine, Soros is blamed for the perceived Great Reset as well as the war more broadly.
Several users insist George Soros controls Ukraine, with one writing, “Soros would love to get our troops and tax dollars involved to save one of his puppet governments” while another refers to Ukraine as a “soros controlled country.” One user suggested that Soros installed President Zelensky and shared a link to a propaganda video hosted on Rumble. Another user explains that this connection between Ukrainian leaders and George Soros “isn’t about running the world - it’s about money and power, but mostly money!”
The Khazarian Invasion
Other users attempt to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine by promoting the “Khazarian Invasion” or the “Khazarian Mafia” conspiracy. This conspiracy alludes to the belief that many modern Jews descended from a people known as the Khazars—an Eastern European group who allegedly converted to Judaism in the eighth century–and who now seek to achieve world domination through clandestine activities, including the financial domination of the countries in which they live.
Several posts in this sample claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is actually meant to help the Ukrainian people fight back against the invasion of the Khazars. One user wrote, “Ukraine is NOT at war with Russia, it’s being SET FREE BY Russia! The Khazarian Jewish Mafia is being brought down along with bio-weapons labs, nuclear facilities and the Obama-Biden money laundering operations.” Another user shared an article that cited Russian media sources blaming Ukraine for the Mariupol children’s hospital attack and wrote, “Rothschild-Khazarian Mafia infiltrates Ukraine politics for #LuciferianNWO [New World Order] Agenda.”
Extreme Anti-Israel Commentary
Another antisemitic theme revealed in this sample of Facebook posts is extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, with posts misrepresenting Israel's position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or using this invasion as a vehicle to draw exaggerated and inaccurate comparisons to Israeli policies.
While some users condemn Israel for not being more involved, others insist that Israel is actually leading the war. One user evoked a distorted Holocaust comparison to condemn Israel, writing, “Israel does not care unless it is about them and their Holocaust” and “Israel has become Germany during the execution of the Jews but the Jews are executing the Palestinians.” Meanwhile, another user evoked antisemitic beliefs of Jewish power, writing, “Instigation of Russia and Putin is a well thought out and planned conspiracy. Israel has devised steps and strategy for NATO and Russia war accurately and intelligently.”
Others try to use the conflict to draw comparisons to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; however, many cross the line of criticism of Israeli policies and instead demonize the very existence of Israel and the Jewish people. This demonization is evident in one post which refers to the nation as “[t]he satanic state of Israel” and calls for Israel to be sanctioned. Similarly, another user quickly moved from discussing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to promote a decades-old antisemitic conspiracy theory about Israeli organ harvesting. Another problematic post reads “If Israel can occupy Palestine because they claimed it once why can’t Russia claim Ukraine? Because Jews are the only ones allowed to occupy right? & dont [sic] dare try to reclaim a country like Ukraine who has been infiltrated & hijacked by Jews. Zelenskyy [sic] is a full blood Jew.”
Meta has recognized the dangerous impact of disinformation on Facebook if left unchecked. Recently, the company has taken several steps to combat hate and disinformation stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, this research reveals that there are serious gaps. Meta has significant reach and influence and, therefore, must address the harmful and misleading content proliferating on Facebook. We recommend Meta take the following steps:
Enforce policies on antisemitism consistently and at scale. Antisemitism continues to be a widespread problem for Facebook. ADL recommends that Meta invest sufficient resources for content moderation.
Incorporate outbound links into the automated content moderation process. Not all links to Gab, Bitchute or Ramble will lead to extremism or misinformation, but these links can be red flags that allow Facebook to more accurately and comprehensively identify concerning content.
Provide warnings to users who click on links directing them to fringe websites. When users click on links sending them to fringe domains, Facebook should display a dialogue box warning them that they are leaving Facebook and going to a platform known for extremism, hate and disinformation. It should also include resources about these fringe platforms.