9 February 2015 16:38

Research undertaken by Lancaster University has informed a major inquiry into antisemitism.

The All-Party Parliamentary inquiry was set up following an apparent rise in antisemitic abuse on social media in July and August last year during fighting between Gaza and Israel.

The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, John Mann MP, launched the inquiry with the aim to draw lessons which could be learned from the upsurge of anti-Jewish incidents associated with last year’s conflict.

Professor Paul Iganski, Dr Abe Sweiry and Mark McGlashan, of the Economic and Social Research Council Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science, were commissioned to analyse the phenomenon on Twitter, and the report from the inquiry, published today (9 February), includes some of their key findings.

Using a tool called Datasift, which allows access to historic Twitter data, the team analysed tweets in English that were sent in July and August last year.

From a sample of 22 million Tweets, they carried out detailed analysis on a sub-sample of 38,460 Tweets containing the words “Israel” or “Gaza”, along with the words “Jew”, “Jews” or “Jewish”.

From a keyword analysis – one of the core methods of corpus linguistics – they found that in the sub-sample:

  • Words such as "Hitler" and "Holocaust" were among the top 35 keywords relating to Jews during the conflict.
  • Words which might be associated with a hostile sentiment, or which are more accusatory in nature, were also dominant.

The Nazi theme, and accusatory sentiment, were both evident in hashtags analysed for the sub-sample, with a high frequency of the hashtags #hitler, #genocide and #apartheid.

By analysing in detail the text of a further sub-sample of tweets, the team identified a number wishing violence upon Jews and others expressing hatred towards Jews.

Professor Paul Iganski said: “It is now well-known that each time there is an upsurge in the Israel-Palestine conflict there is a rise in violent and other abusive incidents against Jews around the world. So it was in 2014 with Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’ military operation in July and August. Numerous backlash incidents against Jews in the UK and elsewhere in the world were reported by news media.

“What was noticeable this time around was an apparent upsurge of antisemitic abuse on social media. By the end of July 2014, some of the press reported an “explosion” of such abuse. We found numerous instances of abusive tweets, with some conveying hateful invective against Jews.”

The report by the All-Party Parliamentary inquiry said that “the importance of this research should not be underestimated” and is calling for further research to be carried out into antisemitism on social media.

Having examined the evidence, which includes this research, the report concludes that there is cause for concern and MPs are suggesting that social media users who spread racial hatred should be banned from sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The team at Lancaster aims to take the research forward by providing ongoing analysis of antisemitic abuse on social media to inform appropriate responses to the problem.