Hochul announces attempt to address hate online amid rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia

The governor said she would put more resources toward social media surveillance on college campuses and pressure social media companies to curb hateful rhetoric.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, joined by Muslim and Jewish leaders Sheikh Musa Drammeh and Eric Goldstein, announced efforts to combat hate online.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, joined by Muslim and Jewish leaders Sheikh Musa Drammeh and Eric Goldstein, announced efforts to combat hate online. Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

In the face of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, Gov. Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on Tuesday about her administration's efforts to turn the tide, specifically how it plans to stop the proliferation of online hate speech via social media through stepping up surveillance. Stopping short of naming the CEOs of various social media companies, Hochul said that she planned to send a letter to them that day demanding action.

“Here's the truth. So much of this hate originates on social media platforms like TikTok who refuse to take action necessary to protect our children and young people. Just look at what happened this week,” Hochul said. “A prominent message shared on TikTok was one from none other than the mastermind of the 9/11 massacre of thousands of New Yorkers, Osama Bin Laden. It was shocking to see young people extolling the virtues of a terrorist kingpin. That only proves the power that social media has over our young people.” 

In the weeks following Oct. 7, the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, antisemitic rhetoric has appeared on social media at a higher rate according to authorities. Posts have ranged from conspiracy theories about the world’s Jewish population to viral TikToks lionizing the ideology of Bin Laden. 

Hochul’s announcement, which touted several programs already in place, followed a Siena College poll from Monday that revealed most New Yorkers feel Islamophobia and antisemitism are on the rise since the beginning of the conflict. 

Hochul announced an additional $3 million investment in the Division of Homeland Security’s Threat Assessment and Management training for all New York colleges and universities. The governor said the threat assessment teams were first activated after the racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket last year, describing “more surveillance of critical threats for harm online.”  She said that the teams can show parents and teachers how to identify warning signs. 

Hochul’s announcement was met with some skepticism. Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn called it the “completely wrong way to meet the moment.” He advocated instead for interfaith bridge building – not social media surveillance.

“As a Jewish man who has represented dozens of Muslim survivors of hate crimes, I know all too well how alarming the recent surge in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic threats have been, but these surveillance stunts are not the solution,” Fox Cahn said in a text. “For years we’ve been told that ever more invasive social media scraping will somehow magically keep us safe, predicting crimes before they happen. It’s failed. While it’s effectively impossible to monitor millions of New Yorkers’ social media accounts to predict true threats, this type of technology is ripe for abuse.”

The state will also create media literacy toolkits for K-12 students and their teachers and parents to protect them from radical messaging and ideas they may encounter online. The material will go live early next year.

“It's about making our kids less susceptible to online misinformation. It's about helping them recognize how to be smart about sources of information, about what's a primary source versus a secondary source. What maybe does the person providing that content want you to think? What might be the agenda behind that and how you can seek out trusted information,” said state Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Jackie Bray.

Asked how these efforts would make a dent in online hate speech Hochul said, “I don't pretend that we're going to change everything. But I'm not going to stay here and not do something when we are in a crisis.”