Recently, Centre Director Kathy Baykitch spoke to Jasmine about her role at AHMSEC as well as social media’s utility in Holocaust memory and commemoration and, in combatting antisemitism and racism.
Kathy: Can you tell us what inspires you about coordinating AHMSEC’s social media?
Jasmine: I have been involved with the AHMSEC since May 2018 and was thrilled to take up the position of the Social Media Coordinator. In general, to be part of the AHMSEC was exciting for me as I had recently completed a MA in Holocaust Studies. I was happy that I would be able to do something that is related to my degree in my home town of Adelaide. Holocaust and genocide studies, education and awareness is something that I am passionate about.
In recent years, an organisation’s social media presence has become particularly important as platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and the likes are how many of us keep up-to-date and involved with the world around us.
The development of AHMSEC has been exciting and I have been so happy to be able to play a part in sharing that with the general public and developing an online community of supporters and friends of the centre. I continue to be inspired by progress in the Museum’s development and seeing everything come to fruition.
Kathy: What are some of the challenges or dangers of social media in relation to racism and antisemitism?
Jasmine: Sadly, there are many.
Social media and the online world create a public sphere unlike any we have seen before. Literally billions of people can contribute to public discourse in a way which was once impossible. As University of Sydney Linguistics Professor Nick Enfield points out, “Ideas spread like disease” and that one day we’ll look back shocked at how recklessly people have treated information on social media – passing on stories without knowing or even caring if they are true.
We are seeing this right now with antisemitic conspiracy theories running rife about how Jews supposedly created COVID-19. For the record, this is not the first and nor will it be the last time we will see this centuries old antisemitic trope circulate online. A recent Haifa University study also showed that TikTok, an app aimed at younger demographics, is a breeding ground for right-wing extremist content promoting antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
The types of racist and antisemitic discourse we see on social media all have the ability to motivate others to keep spreading lies and hatred. As both the past and present show us, hateful rhetoric and ideology is dangerous and insidious and is not merely just an idea.
Kathy: How can we combat racism and antisemitism via social media?
Jasmine: A cultural institution like AHMSEC that promotes being an Upstander and advocates for a kinder and more compassionate society is needed in every major city. Particularly in the context of a world in which antisemitism, Holocaust obfuscation and Holocaust denial are steadily on the rise. Furthermore, as the pandemic illustrates, we only need to scratch the surface for society to show its cracks and weaknesses. We’ve seen attacks on the Asian community in Australia, and other ethnic groups in this country have become the target of scapegoatism.
The good news is, just as there are many dangers of social media, there are also many ways that social media can be used for good and to counter hatred. While many are reckless and spread ideas and stories without care, many of us wish to spread truth, knowledge, and wisdom and to bring awareness to issues of injustice, racism, intolerance, and antisemitism.
Social media has the ability to reach and inspire so many people. This is both its biggest blessing and curse. While it can spread harmful conspiracy theories and become a breeding ground for extremism, it can also be used as a platform to educate and empower people. In the past, conspiracy theories and racist and antisemitic discourse may have been more concealed, and harder to pinpoint in society. We now see a more accurate picture of the extent this exists in our communities and as a result we may be better equipped to address this problem.
Not only can social media promote constructive conversations and discourse, we can also use it as a commemorative tool. Last year we saw this with the Instagram project ‘Eva’s Stories’ and in recent weeks and months institutions have organised (on the fly!) new and innovative ways to engage people virtually around the world in Holocaust education programs, panel discussions and memorial services, all at no or minimal cost.
I would be lying if I said I am not worried about the influence that social media has on ideologies. But we can take action. There are two sides of the social media coin. It is not the easiest route to be an Upstander, but I can promise it is the most meaningful one. Social media provides us with one of the most convenient platforms to do that.
Jasmine Munn-McDonnell is AHMSEC’s Social Media Coordinator. She completed a MA in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa and has also contributed to the development of the Museum’s core exhibition as a Content Research Assistant.