Stories & Voices
A Watchful Presence Online Shares Her Story
December 20th, 2021
UJA Federation of New York >>

UJA launched our Community Security Initiative (CSI) together with the Jewish Community Relations Council-NY in 2019 to help secure 2,000 local Jewish institutions. Today, CSI has five regional directors, a camp security director, a cybersecurity specialist, a procurement officer, and a threat intelligence analyst. Paulette works as CSI’s threat intelligence analyst and is embedded with ADL’s Center for Extremism. She tells us what it’s like scouring the dark web for threats to the Jewish community — and what we should or shouldn’t do in response to antisemitism on social media.

Can you tell us what you do as a threat intelligence analyst?

In very broad terms, I’m monitoring online threats to the Jewish community in New York, curating what I find and then assessing whether it’s a threat that needs to be escalated to law enforcement, or whether it’s just rhetoric that isn’t an overt threat.

What are you seeing online?

I’m looking at both mainstream social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — as well as the more nefarious corners of the internet. On the darker spaces, you have people who spend all day every day sharing horrible things about Jews and the Jewish community, whether it’s stereotypes, wishing death to the Jews, or praising Hitler. On mainstream social media, it’s less aggressive, not as overt, but there are a lot of age-old antisemitic tropes about greed and power. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen subtle or not so subtle implications that Jews are responsible for Covid, or that we’re profiting off Covid.

At what point do you escalate?

I have a “better safe than sorry” policy, and my team and I are in constant contact with law enforcement. Certainly, when there’s a clear or present threat or an institution is specifically named, I’ll dig in to learn more information and then I’ll escalate that. It’s really about sifting through what’s rhetoric and what’s actionable.

How does social media give oxygen to hate speech?

With mainstream social media, you have this platform where, with a click of a button, you can broadcast your opinion and anybody else’s, and so the ability to produce something negative is much easier. An example of this: In May during the conflict between Hamas and Israel, the phrase “Hitler was right” was used on Twitter over 17,000 times in the span of a week. Without the functionality of social media that would never have happened.

What can we do in response to a blatantly antisemitic post? Should we engage or ignore?

It’s useful to report these profiles to the social media platform and to ADL, because they can get content moderation into the right hands. When social media posts are retweeted, even if you’re saying, “This is terrible,” it’s still free publicity, so it’s better to report and not comment.

Anything else we can do to help keep our community secure?

The community has resources. So, if you’re an institution that doesn’t yet have a relationship with one of the regional managers of CSI, reach out so we can do a security assessment of your synagogue, day school, JCC, etc. And if you see something troubling online or see an antisemitic sticker when you’re walking in your neighborhood, report that to CSI and ADL, because we monitor these things and can investigate it.

You’re seeing dark things all day long, how do you leave it behind?

Thankfully, my colleagues are incredibly supportive. And I’m generally a glass-half-full person, so I have natural defenses in places.