António Guterres united nations UN technology
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Image: Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS and AAP)

The United Nations is urging governments across the world to do more to curb the resurgence of anti-Semitism that is in part being accelerated by the way in which technology is used to spread pernicious ideologies.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said in remarks made at a United Nations Holocaust memorial ceremony overnight that there was a global crisis of anti-Semitic hatred and that leadership is required to foster social cohesion and address root causes of hatred.

Guterres observed that new hate crimes against Jews were being reported each day and that assailants appear to be “inspired by previous attacks, glorying the assailants and creating a self-reinforcing vortex of violence”.

“The internet, from social media to online gaming platforms and the dark web, is their playground and their recruiting office,” Guterres said. “They manipulate video content and poison young minds.”

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The UN’s call for greater action to quell the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists coincides with recent initiatives announced by the newly inaugurated Biden administration in the United States to determine the scope of the right-wing extremist problem in the United States.

It also comes as the Australian Parliament readies itself to conduct an inquiry into extremism and radicalisation following concerns expressed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that right-wing extremism is growing.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, in an interview on Sky News to be broadcast tonight, has observed that the rise of anti-semitism is the result of ignorance, lack of empathy and a failure to learn the lessons of history. 

Guterres said the increase in violence against Jewish people and their properties must also be viewed in a more general context given the increasing level of intolerance being exhibited to a broad range of minorities.

“This upsurge of anti-Semitism cannot be seen in isolation from an extremely troubling increase in xenophobia, homophobia, discrimination and hatred in many parts of the world, targeting people on the basis of their identity, including race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability and immigration status,” Guterres said.

“Attacks against religious minorities are a particular concern. Around the world, we have seen Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched; and Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalised.”

Guterres warned that people needed to be alert to any signs of normalisation of hatred and misuse of technologies.

“Prejudice and hatred thrive on insecurity, frustrated expectations, ignorance and resentment. Populist leaders exploit these feelings to whip up fear, in pursuit of power,” the secretary general said. “When any group of people is defined as a problem, it becomes easier to commit human rights abuses and to normalize discrimination against them.”

The United Nations’ focus on right-wing extremists and their increasing presence also comes at a time when various groups are trying to find a “safe space” to continue sharing their ideologies following the Twitter ban on US president Donald Trump and the disruption of the operations of alternative social media platform Parler by Apple, Google, and Amazon over the past month.

A Proud Boys account on Telegram acknowledges that the administrators of that platform, which now has more than 500 million users following the removal of Parler, might nix one of their accounts as social media companies begin to crack down on right-wing groups.