To combat the anti-Semitic and racist comments and threats facing journalists on social media these days, the Anti-Defamation League is assembling a task force that is expected to deliver recommendations by summer’s end on this scourge. “We’re seeing a breadth of hostility whose virulence and velocity is new,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.
Among the task force participants are Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor and an oft-quoted voice on online harassment, and Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The group’s mandate is threefold: to determine the “scope and source” of the attacks on social media against journalists and their ilk; to research their impact; and to come up with countermeasures that “can prevent journalists becoming targets for hate speech and harassment on social media in the future.”
Item No. 1 is a very tricky and frustrating matter, as any sentient social media user can attest. Some journalists who have written skeptically of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump have been stung by vile anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter. But who are the people sending the tweets? How many people are doing this? Some of them mention Trump in their Twitter IDs — does that mean they’re Trump supporters? Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter for the Atlantic and a target of the attacks, posed this question on Twitter:
One question, re: Trump-supporting, Twitter-using Jew-haters: How many are there, actually? Could be a few trolls with a lot of accounts.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) May 20, 2016
When the Erik Wemple Blog passed that question along to Greenblatt, he responded, “I think, honestly, we just don’t know yet.”
One of the task force members is Julia Ioffe, a freelance reporter who found herself targeted by anti-Semitic tweets following a deeply reported GQ profile of Melania Trump. She later filed a police report over death threats that she’d received. The report states that Ioffe claimed that “an unknown person sent her a caricature of a person being shot in the back of the head by another, among other harassing calls and disturbing emails depicting violent scenarios.” In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Ioffe said, “The Trumps have a record of kind of whistling their followers into action.” The ADL is assisting Ioffe with her case.
Anti-Semitic social media trolls are equal-opportunity harassers. Conservative writers such as Ben Shapiro, John Podhoretz and Noah Rothman have all seen the backlash, as have Ioffe, Goldberg, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times. It doesn’t take much to provoke, either. In Weisman’s case, he merely tweeted out a Robert Kagan piece in The Post titled “This is how fascism comes to America” — on Trump’s shoulders, that is. Then came the abuse.
In announcing its task force, the ADL made no mention of Trump. Greenblatt explains that the ADL is a 501(c)(3) group that neither supports nor rejects politicians. Furthermore, he said, anti-Semitic attacks have arisen both from the right and the left. In the case of the latter, he cites folks who try to “delegitimize the policies of the Israeli govt and oftentimes the speech used can be rather troubling.”
Should the task force approach Trump on this matter, it should brace for the response he gave to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who asked about threats against Ioffe. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that.”