The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In 2016, people have read anti-Semitic tweets 10 billion times, many from Trump supporters

On Monday, a reporter received a sickening Twitter message: A photo of her face, with a Nazi-style yellow star superimposed and a bloody bullet hole Photoshopped in the middle of her forehead.

“Don’t mess with our boy Trump or you will be first in line for the camp,” the message to Politico reporter Hadas Gold said.

That message to Gold resembled more than 2 million tweets containing language associated with anti-Semitism, all posted in a one-year period, the Anti-Defamation League found in a new analysis published on Wednesday.

And those hateful tweets didn’t just vanish into the netherworld of the Internet: The ADL found that Twitter users viewed these tweets a staggering 10 billion times.

If people look at anti-Semitic language 10 billion times in one year, those tweets surely influence public norms, the report said. “That’s roughly the equivalent social media exposure advertisers could expect from a $20 million Super Bowl ad — a juggernaut of bigotry we believe reinforces and normalizes anti-Semitic language and tropes on a massive scale.”

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A Twitter spokesperson questioned the large number by email, saying, “Impressions are non-public data. We don’t believe these numbers are accurate, but we take the issue very seriously. We have focused the past number of months specifically on this type of behavior and have policy and products aimed squarely at this to be shared in the coming weeks.”

The ADL report focused in particular on the anti-Semitic tweets aimed at journalists, frequently those whose writing about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has displeased a large contingent of Twitter users who band together to attack these journalists online. The words most commonly found in the bios of the people who post these anti-Semitic attacks? “Trump,” “nationalist,” conservative,” “American” and “white.”

Some of Trump’s campaign staff and many of his supporters have been associated with anti-Semitic speech themselves, and in recent days, observers have noted with alarm that Trump’s talk about a global conspiracy echoes old anti-Semitic tropes.

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“In a Thursday, October 13 speech, Mr. Trump made repeated references to a ‘global’ power structure, including references to international banks plotting ‘the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich’ themselves, telling his audience that ‘this is a conspiracy against you’ and ‘this is a struggle for the survival of our nation.’ Such imagery has a long and vile history among those who perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the head of the political and social action arm of Reform Judaism, the largest denomination in the United States, said in a statement last week. “It defies belief to assume that Mr. Trump is unaware of the anti-Semitic associations of the messages he is espousing – nor can he be unaware that such messages are being celebrated by neo-Nazis and alt-right organizations.”

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump, has said that Trump’s speech about conspiracy was not anti-Semitic. Instead, Cheung said, Trump was referring to a hacked email that indicated Hillary Clinton met with a Brazilian bank.

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The ADL identified 10 journalists, all Jewish, who have borne the brunt of the online attacks, among more than 800 journalists who have been targeted.

Thousands of Twitter users send these tweets. A group of 1,600 Twitter accounts collectively sent 68 percent of the tweets aimed at journalists.

How well does Twitter do at suspending users who harass other people online? During the one-year study, just 21 percent of those 1,600 accounts got suspended by Twitter, the ADL said. And the Twitter users keep adjusting their methods, to stay one step ahead of filters that pick up hate speech. For example, recently these Twitter users have started using “Skypes” to mean “kikes.”

Journalists and others have complained that Twitter does not step in often enough to shut down abusive accounts. On Monday, in perhaps the most recent instance, WNYC reporter Matt Katz complained that Twitter refused to remove an account that sent him a threatening, anti-Semitic tweet.

Hours later, the company suspended the account after all.

In response to an inquiry from the Post on Tuesday, a Twitter spokesperson pointed out that the site’s policies forbid tweets that “promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people” on the basis of religion, among many other categories. The policies continue, “We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”

The ADL study looked at a year of tweets, from August 2015 to July 2016. Starting in January, as the election year got underway, the volume of anti-Semitic tweets increased markedly, it found. On the same day that Trump made certain inflammatory speeches, the volume of hateful tweets shot up.

Trump’s own rhetoric toward the “lying, disgusting people” in the media may have fueled an environment in which his supporters felt free to attack them on the internet, the ADL suggested.

The target of the most anti-Semitic tweets, by far, was Ben Shapiro, a conservative writer who formerly worked for Breitbart and who does not support Trump.

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The other nine work for a variety of media outlets — from recognizable TV personalities Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, to conservative writers Jonah Goldberg and Bethany Mandel, to Yair Rosenberg who works for the Jewish site Tablet.

Filling out the list: The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, CNN’S Sally Kohn, New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman, and Dana Schwartz, who took Trump to task in The Observer, a paper owned by Trump’s Jewish son-in-law.

The report tried to trace the people who spark waves of anti-Semitic attacks on these journalists. In the case of Julia Ioffe, who wrote a profile of Melania Trump in GQ magazine and then faced a barrage of violent tweets, the ADL found that Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer, started the attack. “Please go ahead and send her a tweet and let her know what you think of her dirty kike trickery. Make sure to identify her as a Jew working against White interests, or send her the picture with the Jude star from the top of the article,” Anglin wrote to his readers. They did.

The ADL said it will release recommendations about what to do about this wave of online hate — but not until Nov. 19, after the election is over.

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