Anti-Semitism and Social Media

On October 11, the Muckraker published a post analyzing the rationale behind Corey Stewart’s alignment with Donald Trump. We followed it on October 14 with a post expressing relief at Stewart’s departure given how Alt-Right anti-Semitism appeared to have infiltrated the top ranks of the Trump campaign. Since that time, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has released a report detailing “a troubling, year-long rise in anti-Semitic hate targeting journalists on Twitter, with data showing that the harassment has been driven by rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign and identifying some of the groups and individuals responsible.”

The ADL’s analysis covered the period from August 2015 to July 2016 and identified 2.6 million tweets with language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech. According to ADL, those tweets had an estimated 10 billion impressions, “which ADL believes contributed to reinforcing and normalizing anti-Semitic language – particularly racial slurs and anti-Israel statements — on a massive scale.” The top ten targets were all Jewish journalists, who received 83% of the tweets.

Consistent with what the Muckraker wrote about Alt-Right anti-Semitism infiltrating the upper echelons of the Trump campaign, the ADL report also noted that there “is evidence that a considerable number of the anti-Semitic tweets targeting journalists originate with people identifying themselves as Trump supporters, ‘conservatives’ or extreme right-wing elements.”

Additionally, the report notes there is evidence that Trump contributed to the environment in which reporters were targeted, citing Trump’s references to them as “absolute scum,” and his saying, “I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.” The David Duke episode and the failure to disavow threats against a reporter who wrote an article about Melania that Trump did not like are additional examples.

ADL is careful to note that although the individuals directing anti-Semitism toward journalists self-identify as Trump supporters and conservatives, this does not mean that Trump supported these tweets. In fact, as we wrote on October 14 in the Muckraker, we think Trump for the most part has been clueless about the dog-whistle, anti-Semitic nature, of some of his comments. As we stated, it’s our belief that Trump is being manipulated by the much smarter, self-interested, Alt-Right white nationalists in his campaign, led by campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Taking advantage of Trump’s lack of in-depth knowledge of substantive issues, the Bannon coterie uses a combination of flattery and conspiracy theories, for which Trump has a documented affinity, to manipulate Trump into saying what Bannon wants, thus pursuing Bannon’s agenda of destroying the governing wing of the Republican Party to establish an Alt-Right, white nationalist-dominated party.

But the subject here is less the manipulation of Trump than it is Twitter.

Twitter contests that the tweets cited by ADL actually made 10 billion impressions, but they are under fire for their management of the Twitter universe. Critics note that Twitter does not market itself as a complete free speech forum where anything goes. Instead, it partially entices users with a policy that asserts, among other things, that “[y]ou may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”

The problem is, as the Jewish journalists (both conservatives and liberal) have learned, is that Twitter doesn’t actually enforce their policy by adequately monitoring and blocking such activity. Instead, according to critics, when they receive a valid complaint they suspend or delete accounts exhibiting such conduct. Naturally, critics contend, this approach not only closes the barn door after the horses have left, but is essentially fruitless, as the anti-Semites simply establish new accounts under new names. As one Jewish target of the attacks has remarked, as a private company Twitter can either be a wide open forum for speech or it can have an enforceable use policy. But it cannot market itself as the latter in order to entice users to participate and then claim it does not have the resources to monitor and prevent activity that directly threatens users in violation of the policy.

All of us who use forums like Twitter support it by our use. Consequently, all of us, including those of us here at the Muckraker, need to remind ourselves periodically what it is we are supporting and whether or not it is worthy of such support.

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6 comments on “Anti-Semitism and Social Media

  1. -

    This is important for everyone. There was a German theologian who warned that when the Nazis were rounding up Jews, Communists and others he didn’t object because he didn’t belong to those groups, but when they came after him there was nobody left to object. That’s the reason why we need to defend our diversity from such threats.

  2. -

    The theologian was Martin Niemoller.

  3. -

    This is why you see major Jewish Republican donors not giving to the Trump campaign. Some of them know Trump well and like him, but they also know about the Bannon alt-right crowd’s takeover.

  4. -

    PWC has its own type of alt-right group in the form of the Mac Haddow-Pete Candland partnership. They use similar tactics of spreading false information on their Sheriff of Nottingham blog to intimidate and assassinate the character of their opponents and scare into submission weak minded allies like Jeanine Lawson and Ruth Anderson. It’s real sleazeball stuff. At least Stewart and Trump have the decency to be honest with the voters.

  5. -

    I’m glad you called out social media, even if I think you were a little too soft about it. There’s a local activist who writes about local blogs like they’re real journalism and provide actual facts when in most cases the exact opposite is true (no offense). They’re not only partisan opinion blogs, but as you pointed out in a post a long time ago some like the the Sheriff of Notthingham (the Haddow-Candland group blog) actually forge documents to support their positions and defame opponents. Yet this activist walks around with blinders on suggesting they’re all printing facts. It’s a dangerously juvenile and probably narcissistic view.

  6. -

    The Sheriff of Nottingham is at it again with a post about Candland as the champion of reforming school budgets. Candland was quoted years ago in the Prince William Times supporting a 60% revenue sharing agreement for schools, but now that the school board has a Democratic majority he wants to scrap the arrangement.

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