Report says hate nurtured on Web
A recent rise in reports of anti-Semitism in Massachusetts suggests the Internet may be fueling a new and growing breed of hate crime, the Anti-Defamation League says.
Acts of anti-Semitism such as threats, vandalism, and slurs increased 16 percent in the state last year, from 55 incidents in 2009 to 64, according to a report released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization.
Much of that may have to do with budding online communities where anti-Jewish views can spread anonymously, specialists said.
The audit by the Anti-Defamation League is a compilation of records from local law enforcement agencies, along with reports from victims and witnesses of harassment or hate crimes. The study is not a scientific one and does not purport to capture every instance of anti-Semitism in a single year, said Derrek L. Shulman, New England regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
“It’s a way that we detect patterns and trends,’’ Shulman said. “It can be seen as a snapshot.’’
About 18 percent of the anti-Jewish incidents involved a form of electronic communication.
Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said that while fluctuations in hate crime statistics may not reflect long-term trends, he believes that the Internet has been a prime vehicle in the past decade for disseminating anti-Jewish venom, as well as anti-immigrant and anti-gay views.
Most hate crime offenders are between the ages of 14 and 22, McDevitt said. In the past, they may not have found like-minded friends at school or in their neighborhoods. Now, he said, tech-savvy individuals can join online communities that help fuel their ire.
“The Internet has become this feeding ground for individuals who hold these kinds of bigoted views,’’ McDevitt said.
Nationwide, 1,239 incidents were reported last year. The 64 in Massachusetts were composed of 48 acts of harassment, 15 of vandalism, and one of assault. Twelve incidents were in Boston.
One of those involved a Massachusetts 10th-grader who found a swastika and phrases such as “Hitler was right’’ scrawled on a school bathroom stall. “There is an alarming ferocity to it,’’ Shulman said. “As a whole number, 1,200 incidents may not seem like a big deal. But some of these incidents are quite horrific.’’
Shulman said he fears the rising number of reported acts of anti-Semitism could be caused by an “erosion of shame.’’ Individuals who would have been too embarrassed to vocalize anti-Jewish thoughts in the past have now become bolder and more comfortable with the thought of cracking disparaging jokes about Jewish culture or espousing stereotypes of Jewish people, he said.
But there is a flip side to the rising number, Shulman said: Perhaps more incidents of anti-Semitism are being reported because law enforcement officers and local residents have become more vigilant about making hate crimes public knowledge.
In 2010, there were six incidents of harassment reported in New Hampshire, with another six in Maine, and Shulman said he is worried that those numbers may be underreported. Individuals and law enforcement agencies, he said, must be educated about the need to report incidents of anti-Semitism.
“If you let these expressions and jokes go unchallenged,’’ he said, “all you’re doing is allowing for the creation of these building blocks of anti-Semitism.’’
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.