In the past few years, the fraught political climate in the United States has repeatedly put Disney in the crosshairs of politicians and partisans1. So it is not so surprising that the Israel-Hamas war that began last year has seen Disney once again woven into the narratives around it. The most extreme narratives can be found on unmoderated social media sites where the polarizing and extremist nature of the ecosystem fosters hate, violence and antisemitism.
Looking at posts made since the start of the war on October 7 that mention both Disney or its CEO, Bob Iger, and various terms associated with Israel or Judaism, several dates stand out.
The first spike on the left is easy enough to understand: On October 12, in response to Hamas’ attack of the 7th, Disney pledged $2 million dollars in aid to Israeli relief organizations2. Most posts in that spike are just reporting the news.
The next three, on November 18, November 30 and December 1, are all interconnected. On November 15, Elon Musk endorsed a tweet on X containing an antisemitic conspiracy theory3. Two days later, a report showed that antisemitic posts were appearing beside corporate advertising on Musk’s platform4. Following these findings, Disney was one of many companies that ceased its advertising on the platform5.
While many of the posts across unmoderated social were once again reporting the announcement, there was also a notable increase in hateful rhetoric:
Then on November 29, in an interview at the NYT Dealbook Summit, Musk reacted to the companies’ decisions, by singling out Bob Iger - “Hey Bob” and telling them broader cohort: “go fuck yourself”. 6
Following this, a substantial portion of the posts across unmoderated social were antisemitic.
On December 1, nearly one in five posts mentioning Disney and jews (15 of 80) uses the antisemitic slur “kike”, most of them from far-right neo-Nazi community The Daily Stormer which were then cross-posted to unmoderated social media sites like Gab:
Of greater concern is that Musk’s increasing role as a right-wing darling also means that his business dispute with Disney becomes partisan: in the wake of his comments we have seen an increase in the connection between Disney, antisemitism, and other far-right conspiracies like the Epstein child-molestation ring and the white genocide aka the Great Replacement:
And of course, this episode plays out in the larger political climate where Disney is already under fire for inclusiveness, adding more fuel to existing calls to punish them for their perceived transgressions:
Zooming out from these specific instances, this snapshot of social media posts also offers insight into the difference between unmoderated and mainstream social media. Because unmoderated social media caters to extreme views and has (by definition) low levels of moderation, levels of hatred and prejudice that are not seen on mainstream can be ‘freely’ expressed.
For example, in this sample, of the 161 posts containing the word “kike”, 160 were on unmoderated social media (and the other post was a typo). Similar trends can be seen for other racial slurs like “nigger” and “spic”, whose use is seen exclusively on posts on unmoderated social.
The extremism of unmoderated social media can be seen in Pyrra’s sentiment analysis, which shows that on average, unmoderated social media posts were more hateful, violent, offensive, and negative than those on mainstream platforms.
These events offer a peek into business-relevant reactions to global events, and how those reactions evolve over time. They also show the dark side of social media, the kinds of conversation that moderation removes on mainstream platforms, which can continue to fester – and continue to affect society.
For businesses themselves, the necessity to track unmoderated social media is clear. Access to these communities can alert security teams to immediate physical threats. But more broadly, can provide much needed insight into a subsection of the community mindset that is increasingly shaping policy.