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Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities of Online Publishers

Abstract

This article focuses on antisemitic and racist content in the Urban Dictionary: a global top-1000 website built upon user-generated content. It argues that the Urban Dictionary’s founding principles have directly facilitated the site’s exploitation as a platform for the dissemination of antisemitic hate speech and white supremacist ideology. These principles can be seen as typifying the free speech absolutism that became dominant within the US tech industry during the 1990s. However, the right to free expression cannot reasonably be taken to exempt internet companies from responsibility for content whose publication they facilitate. The article concludes by arguing that websites such as the Urban Dictionary are essentially publishers, and that the solution to the problem of their indulgence of big-ots may be for those who do not wish to be associated with bigotry to refrain from doing business with institutions that publish content that they consider abhorrent. Keywords: alt-right, antizionism, brand contamination, definitions, dictionaries, free speech, Urban Dictionary, user-generated content, Web 2.0
Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities
of Online Publishers
Daniel Allington
INTRODUCTION
By defining and modelling correct and/or appro-
priate usage for the words of a language, lexi-
cographers can exercise a subtle influence on
those who use them. Tom Dickins explains their
particular role as follows:
Much of the “ideological” content of a dictio-
nary resides in the detail. Dictionaries may
not offer the scope of a textbook or a political
pamphlet to re-interpret past and present real-
ities, but, unlike other publications, they are a
constant source of reference and users tend to
trust them implicitly.1
Such trust may be diminished when a
dictionary does not have authoritative status.
However, in the online world, non-authoritative
but open-access texts may be a far more constant
source of reference, as they are easily and almost
instantly available at all times. This article focuses
on the ways in which multiple definitions and
examples within the Urban Dictionary—a slang
dictionary featuring user-generated content—
appear to have been constructed in order to
communicate and normalize an antisemitic and
white supremacist worldview.
Identifying Antisemitism
When antisemites speak plainly, their bigotry
is readily apparent. However, much antisemitic
discourse is expressed in subtle and coded ways,
especially online.
2
In identifying examples of
antisemitism, this article therefore draws on the
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
Working Definition of Antisemitism (hence-
forth, the IHRA Definition), which both recog-
nizes antisemitism as a “perception”—that is, as
cognitive or ideational in character, and thus not
Abstract
is article focuses on antisemitic and racist content in the Urban Dictionary: a global
top-1000 website built upon user-generated content. It argues that the Urban Dictionarys
founding principles have directly facilitated the site’s exploitation as a platform for the
dissemination of antisemitic hate speech and white supremacist ideology. ese principles
can be seen as typifying the free speech absolutism that became dominant within the US
tech industry during the 1990s. However, the right to free expression cannot reasonably
be taken to exempt internet companies from responsibility for content whose publication
they facilitate. e article concludes by arguing that websites such as the Urban Dictionary
are essentially publishers, and that the solution to the problem of their indulgence of big-
ots may be for those who do not wish to be associated with bigotry to refrain from doing
business with institutions that publish content that they consider abhorrent.
Keywords alt-right, antizionism, brand contamination, denitions, dictionaries, free speech, Urban
Dictionary, user-generated content, Web 2.0
JCA 2020 (DOI: 10.26613/jca/3.1.40)
Daniel Allington
2 Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism
limited to behavioural or emotional hostility—
and recognizes that this perception may be
inherent in certain ways of thinking about Israel
no less than in classic antisemitic tropes.3 This
is an acknowledgement of what has been called
“the new antisemitism” or “antizionist antisem-
itism”: what might more straightforwardly be
referred to as ‘Israel-related antisemitism.’4
Three Lexicographic Forms of Bigotry
Alongside the above, this article employs a
novel three-part typology of means by which
it is assumed that bigotry can be expressed or
communicated through dictionary definitions
and examples. These means are as follows:
Type I: definitions and usage examples for
hateful slurs, which do not make clear that usage
of the slurs is unacceptable, or which argue
that their unacceptability is to be regretted.
Contemporary lexicographers are very much
aware of this form of bigotry. For example, in
1998 Merriam-Webster responded to criticism
by revising its definition of “nigger” as “a black
person” or “a member of any dark-skinned
race” to begin with a warning that would leave
readers “in no doubt that the word offends most
people.”5
Type II: definitions and usage examples for
terms denoting specific groups that make sense
only given a bigoted and stereotypical under-
standing of those groups. A good example
of this is the use of the word “jew” as a verb
meaning “haggle”—this behaviour being a
stereotypical attribute of Jews. It was not until
2019 that the Association of British Scrabble
Players removed that definition from its offi-
cial dictionary, following lobbying from the
Community Security Trust.6
Type III: definitions and usage examples inten-
tionally designed to encode bigoted understand-
ings of the world. Examples can be found in the
Nazi-era Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen
Testament, multiple entries within which appear
to have been written in order to justify twen-
tieth century antisemitic views.7
Although Type I lexicographic bigotry is,
thanks to twenty-first-century preoccupation
with verbal hygiene, perhaps the most easily
recognized, types II and III are arguably more
dangerous, as they perpetuate understandings
of the world that can serve as a motivation or
justification for persecution and violence. In
the body of this article, all three types shall be
used as a framework for understanding bigotry
as expressed in dictionary definitions published
on a single popular website.
The Urban Dictionary
Founded in 1999 and operating out of the
United States, the Urban Dictionary is a
well-established Web 2.0 site, predating
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even
Wikipedia. According to the web traffic analytics
service, Alexa Internet, Urban Dictionary
falls comfortably within the world’s top 1000
internet sites, ranging between 640th and 757th
place from September to December 2019, and
receiving incoming links from more sites than
the average for what that particular service
regards as its four main competitors, that is,
Merriam Webster (which ranged between 599th
and 515th place in the world rankings during
the same period), dictionary.com (which ranged
between 847th and 634th), the Free Dictionary
(between 635th and 688th), and the Cambridge
University Press website (337th and 334th).
8
At the time of writing, the Wikipedia page for
Urban Dictionary cites numerous indicators
of the site’s influence, including its official use
as a legal resource.9 It can further be observed
that Google searches for current examples of
internet slang often place the Urban Dictionary
very highly. For example, the Urban Dictionary
page for “chonky”—an affectionate word used
to describe overweight animals—was placed
first in the Google rankings as of the time of
Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities of Online Publishers
JCA | Vol. 3 | No. 1 | Spring 2020 3
writing, when browsing privately from the
United Kingdom.10
There appears to have been only a single
scholarly attempt to theorize the Urban
Dictionary. Caroline Tagg writes as follows:
Its purpose is to document slang usage as
defined by its users, and it accepts multiple and
contrasting definitions of the same word. It also
accepts neologisms invented for the purpose
of entering them into the dictionary. These
often serve to document or highlight existing
concepts or practices. . . .
As [Urban Dictionary’s] founder, Aaron
Peckham puts it, “Every single word on here is
written by someone with a point of view, with
a personal experience of the word in the entry”.
The contrast between Wikipedia and Urban
Dictionary is similar to that between [wikis]
and blogs, which Myers has theorised in terms
of competing models of knowledge. According
to [the] “public” model [of wikis], knowledge
is a group endeavour: “anyone can contribute,
but . . . only with the agreement of others can
one’s contribution stand”. But in the “private”
model of the blogosphere, knowledge is an indi-
vidual possession: “everyone is entitled to say
what they want” and “everyone has the right
to be heard”. As Peckham’s statement would
suggest, these assumptions also underpin Urban
Dictionary.11
As we shall see, such allowances appear to
be extended to antisemites and other bigots,
who are permitted not only to express hateful
views, but also to convey those views to an
audience through the online publishing plat-
form that the Urban Dictionary provides. As
a result, numerous Urban Dictionary entries
express a hateful point of view and encode a
bigoted understanding of the world. It seems
likely that this results from the deliberate
activity of digitally-active white supremacists
(now sometimes referred to as the “alt-right”),
whose use of the internet for outreach has been
a cause for concern since the late twentieth
century.12
ANTISEMITISM AS MANIFEST IN URBAN
DICTIONARY DEFINITIONS AND EXAMPLES
Type I
It is possible to locate many entries for racial,
ethnic, religious, and sexual slurs on the Urban
Dictionary. This in itself is not necessarily a bad
thing. Whether a dictionary entry should be
considered bigoted depends not on the word
being defined but on the precise form of the
definition and examples.
The top entry for the word “kike” appro-
priately defines the word as “[a] racist name
for a Jewish person,” while the second iden-
tifies it as a “racial slur” and the third as “a
degrading way of calling someone a Jew”; the
fifth and sixth were similar. However, several
highly placed definitions of the word appear to
have been constructed in order to suggest that
its use should not be regarded as offensive. For
example, the fourth definition was the dubious
A word that Jews use because they can’t say the
n-word,” while the seventh simply defined the
word as meaning “A Jew. A Hebrew. A person of
Jewish ancestry.” The latter, moreover, added an
example clearly intended to mock Jews: “Ike the
Kike bought a box of matzos for his girlfriend.”
Both of these entries appear to normalize the
racial slur, and as such are classifiable as Type
I lexicographic bigotry. However, the eighth
entry defines “kike” to mean “A member of a
god-hating tribe that has been kicked out of
every country they have resided in, including
their home country,” and thus not only treats
“kike” as an unproblematic term for “Jew” but
adds a hateful assertion about Jews. As such,
it spills over from Type I into Type III lexico-
graphic bigotry.
The situation with regard to the word
“Yid” was even less encouraging. The fourth
highest-placed entry was the only one on the
first page to recognize the word as a slur. Indeed,
the third entry directly argues that treating the
word as a slur involves “a major misconception.”
Thus, Type I lexicographic bigotry is again in
evidence.
Daniel Allington
4 Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism
The Urban Dictionary also features more
unusual examples of offensive terms, such as
“holocaust nigger,” whose sole definition consists
of just two words: “A Jew.” This instance of
Type I lexicographic bigotry is accompanied by
an example that accuses every Jew (or, to use
its actual words, “every holocaust nigger”) of
making false claims about the Holocaust, and
a looping video with the caption “playing the
victim” (an implied accusation against all Jews).
Fig. 1 is a screenshot of the entry, illustrating the
structure of a typical Urban Dictionary page,
with external advertisements placed by Google
AdSense and the offer of a print-on-demand
Urban Dictionary-branded mug featuring the
word in question.
Figure 1. Urban Dictionary entry for ‘holocaust nigger’
Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities of Online Publishers
JCA | Vol. 3 | No. 1 | Spring 2020 5
As the screenshot shows, the Urban
Dictionary is able to receive advertising revenue
from a range of sources. At the time when
the screenshot was taken, these included the
Peoples Postcode Lottery, the bookmaker and
online casino games company, William Hill, and
the major British furniture retailer, DFS, whose
advert featured the popular cartoon characters,
Wallace and Gromit. Branding for all of the
aforementioned appears alongside this gratu
-
itously offensive dictionary entry. But even if
the Urban Dictionary had spared its advertisers
from direct embarrassment by restricting adver-
tisements to less controversial pages, it is hard to
see why any reputable organisation would want
to be associated with a website that popularizes
terms such as “holocaust nigger”—and still less
with one that retails “holocaust nigger” mugs.
Type II
As one might expect, there were numerous
examples of Type II lexicographic bigotry with
regard to the words “Jew” and “Jews,” which
were combined under the headword “Jews.
The 11th most highly placed entry for that
headword gives a reasonable definition for the
noun “Jew” and then notes that “Jew is also used
as a derogatory term for those who fit into the
Jewish stereotype (cheap, money-hungry, unfair,
or unscrupulous in business).” This arguably
includes enough warning signals (“derogatory
. . . stereotype”) to avoid classification as Type
II lexicographic bigotry, but the same cannot be
said for the 15th most highly placed entry, which
gives three reasonable definitions of the noun
“Jew” and then defines the verb “Jew” as “to cheat
someone, to get someone down on their price, to
be stingy,” without giving any indication that this
usage might be considered offensive. As for the
25th, it solely consists of “Verb: To steal some-
thing from someone and never return it,” while
the 26th solely consists of “A cheap ass niggah . . .
Or female” (ellipsis in original; given the spelling,
the intention behind the latter use of the word
“niggah” may perhaps not have been to offend).
The examples provided for these last two,
that is, “I jewed your family” and “why you gotta
be such a Jew?,” clearly normalize the antise-
mitic association of unscrupulousness and miser-
liness with the ethno-religious category of the
Jew. Whatever the intentions of the authors of
these definitions, using the standard term for
members of a particular group as a verb denoting
a form of criminal activity, or as a noun denoting
ungenerous or miserly members of other groups,
acts to cement the idea that these behaviours or
tendencies are characteristic of that group. While
the construction of such definitions would prob-
ably not be considered to amount to “[m]aking
mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or
stereotypical allegations about Jews”—the first
example provided by the IHRA Definition—
these definitions only make sense in relation
to a belief in the truth of such allegations, and
as such clearly exemplify Type II lexicographic
bigotry.
Type III
It is with regard to Type III lexicographic bigotry
that the Urban Dictionary really distinguishes
itself. We have already seen an example of Type
III lexicographic bigotry in discussion of defi-
nitions of the word “kike.” But much of the
anti-Jewish bigotry in the Urban Dictionary is
articulated in relation to Zionism. For example,
the sixth-from-top entry for “Judaism” defines
the word as denoting “A peaceful, spiritual reli-
gion that is not at all meant to be nationalistic
or greedy” (emphasis added) but adds “SEE:
NOT Zionism,” implying that the latter is the
opposite of all these things. A link to the website
for the US branch of the anti-Zionist Neturei
Karta sect is provided in the example, together
with the words “Judaism is not Zionism—learn
the fucking difference!” However, it would be
a mistake to see all of the bigotry articulated
in relation to Zionism solely in terms of the
“new antisemitism.” For example, the top defi-
nition for “Zionist” defines a Zionist as “[a] race
supremacist, colonialist, extremist” and as “[o]ne
Daniel Allington
6 Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism
who believes in a political ideology that hijacked
Judaism, soon to hijack Christianity.” The idea
of a forthcoming “hijack” of Christianity has
nothing to do with the actually existing State of
Israel, nor with the political movement which
led to its foundation. By analogy with “antisem-
itism without Jews,13 such discourse has been
theorized as “antizionism without Zion. 14 The
“Zionism” that it affects to oppose is a fantasy
unconnected to the actually existing Jewish state,
being no more than the old idea of a Jewish
conspiracy to take over the Christian world,
referred to as “Zionist” for perhaps no other
reason than the allusion made in the title of
the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which despite
their name, make no reference to the politics of
Zionism).
15
The second example of the IHRA
Definition emphasizes the particular importance
of “the myth [of] a world Jewish conspiracy or
of Jews controlling the media, economy, govern-
ment or other societal institutions,” and this is
exactly what we see here.
The myth of a world Jewish conspiracy
is invoked in many other Urban Dictionary
entries, such as the example for the sole entry
for the word “Zio-vermin”: a term which is
said to refer to “those who promote the notion
that Christianity is a form of subservient slave
religion to Judaism.” That example further
engages in Holocaust inversion with its refer-
ence to “the Zio-vermin bankers who financed
Hitler in order to generate profit for German /
Zio-vermin corporations that built the Nazi war
machine.”
16
Conspiracy fantasy is also promoted
by the fifth-from-top entry for “Mossad,” which
defines the latter as “[t]he institution behind
all of the worlds tragedy,” and also states that
Mossad “control[s] the media, the US govern-
ment, and your life.” This is more of the same
“antizionism without Zion”: it is not a discus-
sion of the actual Mossad, but a quasi-theolog-
ical discourse in which “Mossad” denotes an
omnipresent and virtually omnipotent force of
abstract Jewish evil.
The seventh example provided by the IHRA
Definition consists in “Denying the Jewish
people their right to self-determination, e.g., by
claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is
a racist endeavour.” Many entries in the Urban
Dictionary appear designed to do precisely that.
The top entry for “Israel” describes that country
as “An ethno-religious, race supremacist, settler
colonial, apartheid project created for some
Jews in the Arab heartland mainly by terrorism
and ethnic cleansing.” Like the above-quoted
definitions of Judaism and Zionism, it attempts
to draw a line between the religion of Judaism
and the politics of Zionism, adding that “Israel
came into being propelled by Zionism, a concept
which made a mockery of Judaism’s moral values
and ethical principles.” However, the second-
from-top entry identifies Israel with quintessen-
tial Jewishness, defining it as “[l]iterally a Jewish
ethnostate birthed out of the wrongful theft
of land from the Palestinians” and “a liv[ing]
embodiment of stereotypical Jewry.”
The top Urban Dictionary entry for
“Zionism” is very closely related to the above,
and defines its subject as “[a] colonial enter-
prise which created a state for some Jews in the
Arab heartland mainly by terrorism and ethnic
cleansing,” also adding that “Zionism made a
mockery of Judaism’s moral values and ethical
principles.” The same implication is taken further
under headwords such as “Zionazi,” where the
example given by the top entry consists of the
statements that “[t]he Zionazi illegal settlers in
the West Bank repeatedy use violence to intimi-
date Palestinians and seize their land” and “[t]he
Israeli goverment aids and abets Zionazism,” and
“Zionazism,” where the example given by the
sole entry consists of the statement that “[t]he
current Zionazism [sic] practices are eliminating
Palestinian people, through the act of ethnic
cleansing.” These entries would be regarded as
antisemitic under the tenth example provided
by the IHRA Definition, that is, “[d]rawing
comparisons [between] contemporary Israeli
policy [and] that of the Nazis.” On the other
hand, the fourth-from-top entry for “Zionazi”
refers neither to Palestine nor indeed to Israel,
stating instead that “[a] Zionazi is defined by
Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities of Online Publishers
JCA | Vol. 3 | No. 1 | Spring 2020 7
their will to create and support a single govern-
ment or group that rules the world, such as
the totalitarian New World Order” and that
“Zionazis are working to centralize authority
across national boundaries at the expense of
personal freedom and economic liberty.” This is
neither a rational critique of real-world Zionism
nor even a comparison between Israeli policy
and that of the Nazis, but simply an assertion of
the reality of the antisemitic fantasy of a world
Jewish conspiracy (referred to in the IHRA
Definition’s above-quoted second example).
In other words, it is yet another expression of
the “anti-Zionism without Zion” discussed
above: old-fashioned conspiracy-fantasist
antisemitism.
Extreme right-wing attempts to exonerate
Adolf Hitler and other Nazis by presenting the
Holocaust as having been exaggerated or even
fabricated by Jews or Zionists have been in
evidence almost since the end of World War II,
17
and are referred to in the fourth and fifth exam-
ples provided by the IHRA Definition. Some
entries in the Urban Dictionary do not go quite
this far, merely using humour to trivialize the
Holocaust. For example, the fourth-highest entry
for “Hitler” defined the latter as “[s]omeone
who got 6 000 000 kills in a single match,
while the fifth-highest made an almost identical
reference to online gaming culture by defining
him as “a man with a K/D [kill/death] ratio of
6 000 000 / 1.” However, other entries seek to
deny or minimize the Holocaust, or at least to
call its reality into question, and often also to
imply that belief in the Holocaust is the result of
a Jewish conspiracy. For example, the top entry
for “Holohoax” refers with apparent neutrality
to “belie[f that] a smaller number of Jews died
or that [the Holocaust] did not happen at all,”
but then presents an example that presumes
the correctness of that belief: “The Holohoax
became a possibility after new evidence came
out.” Likewise, the second-from-top definition
pretends to a sort of neutrality on the factuality
or otherwise of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews,
yet comes down on the side of those who deny
its reality: “Although it is unsure whether the
Holocaust was real or not, people who ‘deny
the Holocaust seem to provide more proof and
evidence supporting the fact the Holocaust never
happened.” The example accompanying this
definition dramatizes this idea with a dialogue
between a hypothetical “Person 1” who says “I
believe that Hitler killed and utterly slaughtered
over 6 million Jews during WWII” (an explicit
statement of apparently unsupported belief)
and a hypothetical “Person 2” who replies,
“It’s just a Holohoax created by Jewish media
into brainwashing [sic] our current generation
into believing [Hitler] was evil” (and does not
hedge this claim with the words “I believe” or
anything else to that effect). Not until we reach
the fourth-from-top entry for “Holohoax” do we
find a definition which identifies this term as one
used by “white supremacists and antisemites.
BIGOTRY AGAINST OTHER GROUPS IN THE
URBAN DICTIONARY
Although most forms of bigotry are outside this
article’s remit, it is clear that antisemitism is not
the only one to find open expression in defi-
nitions and examples published on the Urban
Dictionary website. For example, the top defini-
tion of the racially offensive term “nigger” is not
a definition but only an expression of displea-
sure over how taboo against using that particular
word has “caused numerous school districts to
ban the great American novel, The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn.” This would appear to be
an example of Type I lexicographic bigotry. By
contrast, the second-from-top entry suggests
that not all black people are “niggers” but that
the term correctly denotes “gang-banging,
uneducated, welfare-abusing, cap-popping,
thuggin[g], no-good, drug-selling/using,
nothing-but-rap-listening, terrible parenting,
never-want-to-get-ahead-in-life blacks that
nobody wants around.” This arguably exempli-
fies Type II lexicographic bigotry by suggesting
that the term can legitimately be used to
describe any black person who conforms to the
Daniel Allington
8 Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism
racist stereotype of a black person. The fourth-
from-top entry simply defines “niggers” as “crim-
inals, thugs, and under-achievers who blame
white people for . . . all their problems.” Given
that there is no attempt to suggest that the term
does not refer to all black people, it can probably
be taken as an example of Type III lexicographic
bigotry: the author of the definition is suggesting
that all black people fall into that category, as
well as treating “nigger” as an unproblematic
label for all of them. The fifth-from-top is essen-
tially the same as the second, while the third,
sixth, and seventh all object to the prohibition
of the word’s use by non-black people.
Not infrequently, one finds multiple forms
of hate expressed in a single definition. This
is not surprising, as the most digitally vocal
antisemitic community in the US, i.e. the white
supremacist “alt-right,” espouses an ideology
of hatred towards all non-white groups. For
example, the neologism “nigropolis” is defined
as “The world after whites are all killed and race-
mixed by Zionist Jews and niggers.” As with
the Urban Dictionary neologisms discussed by
Tagg (see above), this one would appear to have
been invented in order to promote an existing
idea: the racist “great replacement” or “white
genocide” conspiracy theory, which has moti-
vated a series of recent mass shootings by white
supremacists targeting Jews and Muslims.18 For
that reason, the sole entry for that particular
word can be classified as Type III lexicographic
bigotry.
CONCLUSION
It is clear that individuals with a hateful agenda
have been able to exploit the publication infra-
structure provided by the Urban Dictionary,
turning it into a platform for the dissemination
of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry. This
exploitation is argued to have been facilitated
by the site’s founding principles, which (as we
have seen) presuppose the effective equality of
all points of view.
The Urban Dictionary’s lexicographic free-
for-all can be seen as a specific expression of
the absolutist approach to free speech which
has proliferated throughout Silicon Valley since
the publication of the so-called Declaration of
the Independence of Cyberspace and its subse-
quent promotion by the lobby group known
as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
19
The
Declaration describes the internet as an imma-
terial realm in which governments “have no
sovereignty” and real-world “legal concepts . . .
do not apply”:
20
ideas that have been legally
established to be fallacious.21 Moreover, while it
presents racial prejudice as having no meaning in
cyberspace because online identities are disem-
bodied, its espousal of the ideal of “a world
where anyone, anywhere may express his or her
beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear
of being coerced into silence or conformity”22
appears to been translated into a commitment
to the idea that it is wrong to do anything that
might impede the dissemination of any form of
discourse, including expressions of racial prej-
udice and incitements to real-world violence.
Jessie Daniels writes as follows:
When several tech companies kicked alt-right
users off their platforms after Charlottesville,
they were met with a vigorous backlash from
many in the industry. Matthew Prince, CEO
and co-founder of Cloudflare, who reluctantly
banned virulently racist site, The Daily Stormer,
from his service . . . fretted about the deci-
sion. “As [an] internet user, I think it’s pretty
dangerous if my moral, political, or economic
whims play some role in deciding who can
and cannot be online,” he said. The Electronic
Frontier Foundation issued a statement that
read, in part, “we believe that no one . . . should
decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.”23
Such arguments are commonplace where
internet services are under discussion. Yet compa-
nies of the type represented by Urban Dictionary
are at heart publishers—and to run a publishing
company on the assumption that no one has the
right to make editorial decisions would seem
Antisemitism in the Urban Dictionary and the Responsibilities of Online Publishers
JCA | Vol. 3 | No. 1 | Spring 2020 9
REFERENCES
1 Tom Dick ins, “Changing Ideological Directions: A Study of the Czech Dictionary, Slovník jazyka Českého (1937–1952),
Slavonica 6, no. 1 (2000): 30.
2 Matthias J. Becker, “Understanding Online Antisemitism: Towards a New Qualitative Approach,Fathom (October
2019), http://fathomjournal.org/understanding-online-antisemitism-towards-a-new-qualitative-approach/.
3 Working Denition of Antisemitism (Bucharest: International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, May 26, 2016).
4 Pierre-André Taguieff, Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004); Daniel
Allington and David Hirsh, “The AzAs (Antizionist Antisemitism) Scale: Measuring Antisemitism as Expressed in
Relation to Israel and its Supporters,Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism 2, no. 2 (2019).
5 “Dictionary will Revise Definitions of 200 Slurs,New York Times (New York), May 3, 1998.
6 Daniel Sugarman, "Association of British Scrabble Players Updates Definition of ‘Jew’ after Complaints: the Verb
Was Defined as to Haggle, Get the Better of’ on the Association’s Word List," Jewish Chronicle (London) 2019,
https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/scrabble-association-labels-jew-verb-as-offensive-after-requests-from-uk-
jews-1.488685.
7 Maurice Casey, “Some Anti-Semitic Assumptions in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,Novum
Testamentum 41, no. 3 (1999).
8 Information taken from https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/urbandictionary.com; https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/
cambridge.org; https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/dictionary.com; https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/thefreedictionary.
com; and https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/merriam-webster.com, accessed 19 December 19, 2019.
9 Wikipedia, “Urban Dictionary [18 December 2019 edit],” 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Urban_
Dictionary&oldid=931394759.
10 Private browsing is necessary in order to ensure that the browser’s search history does not influence the rankings.
11 Caroline Tagg, “Digital English,” in Communicating in English: Talk, Text, Technology, ed. Daniel Allington and
Barbara Mayor (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 318, 21, quoting V. Heffernan, “Street Smart,New York Times (New
York), July 5, 2009, MM, 16; Greg Myers, Discourse of Blogs and Wikis (London: Continuum, 2010), 146, 57.
12 Josh Adams and Vincent T. Roscigno, “White Supremacists, Oppositional Culture, and the World Wide Web,” Social
Forces 84, no. 2 (2005).
13 Paul Lendvai, Anti-Semitism without JEWS (New York: Doubleday, 1971).
perverse. Certainly, it cannot be justified on
grounds of any reasonable interpretation of the
First Amendment to the US Constitution, which
only acts to limit the power of government, and
says nothing about a publisher’s right to engage
in the kind of decision-making that the busi-
ness of publishing has always involved, whether
on grounds of decency, profitability, politics,
morals, religious convictions, personal tastes, or
anything else that editorial policy or arbitrary
preference may choose to prioritise.24
The right to free expression does not
imply the right to dissemination through a
global top-1000 website. Nor does it place a
privately owned company under obligation
to retail “Holocaust nigger” mugs. If these
things happen, that is because the owners or
employees of the website or company in ques-
tion have made choices which facilitated their
occurrence. And if they are free to make such
choices, then others must likewise be free to
respond as they see fit within the framework
that is afforded them by the market and the
law. While some may consider a policy of
indiscriminately publishing anything at all to
be admirable, having adopted such a policy for
philosophical or commercial reasons cannot
exempt a publisher from responsibility when
bad actors use its platform to disseminate mate-
rials that society as a whole is likely to consider
repugnant. For when a publisher refuses to take
its responsibilities seriously, customers, adver-
tisers, and others have every right to take their
business elsewhere.
Daniel Allington
10 Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism
14 Steve Cohen, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic (London: No Pasaran Media Ltd, 2019 [1984]), 72.
15 For the classic study, see Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: the Myth of the Jewish World-Conspiracy and the
“Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).
16 For more on Holocaust inversion, see Lesley Klaff, “Holocaust inversion and contemporary antisemitism,Fathom
(Winter 2014), http://fathomjournal.org/holocaust-inversion-and-contemporary-antisemitism/.
17 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Free Press, 1996),
51, 55–98.
18 David Toube, “Conspiracism Threatens Both Jews and Muslims,Jewish Chronicle (London), December 17, 2019.
See also Daniel Allington and Tanvi Joshi, “‘What Others Dare Not Say’: An Antisemitic Conspiracy Fantasy and its
YouTube Audience,” Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism 3, no. 1.
19 John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1996).
https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence.
20 Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
21 Raphael Cohen-Almagor, “Freedom of Expression, Internet Responsibility, and Business Ethics: the Yahoo! Saga and
Its Aftemath,Journal of Business Ethics 106, no. 3 (2011).
22 Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
23 Jessie Daniels, “The Algorithmic Rise of the ‘Alt-Right’,Contexts 17, no. 1 (2018).
24 “First amendment to the Constitution of the United States” (1791), https://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/
constitution.htm#amendments.
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Les volumes anciens du Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament ont ete publies en Allemagne durant la periode d'antisemitisme et de nazisme. L'A. appelle a la prudence tous ceux qui les consultent car ils representent une menace cachee dans l'exposition de ses idees.
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