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Is Reporting on Hate Good for the Haters?

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A big part of my job is reporting antisemitism – from the filth spilling out of the sewers of white supremacy, to the never-ending debate over when anti-Israel activity ends and Jew-hatred begins, to the isolated graffiti scrawled on a synagogue door.

It’s a job that comes with some responsibility, but frankly one that can be abused. Does reporting on antisemitism only amplify it? Like the “if it bleeds it leads” journalism of local TV newscasts, does our reporting end up suggesting the world is more hostile to Jews than it actually is?

I fret especially over the “one-offs” – the kind of isolated incidents that might be upsetting to the local victims but don’t necessarily point to a wider wave of antisemitism. By treating, say, a swastika scrawled on a highway overpass as newsworthy, do news outlets end up empowering a 16-year-old with a Sharpie? Might an article about the incident inspire a copycat?

Authors Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner take on these dilemmas in a new book, “You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape” (MIT Press). The book draws in part on Phillips’ 2018 study, “The Oxygen of Amplification.” Using case studies, she contended then that journalists accidentally propagated extremist ideology out of a well-intentioned impulse to expose manipulators and........

© The Jewish Week

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