ADL study finds 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets posted in year
Group says anti-Jewish messages still being spread on microblogging platform despite efforts to curb hate speech
Washington — Twitter users bashed out an estimated 4.2 million English-language anti-Semitic tweets over a one-year span, the Anti-Defamation League said on Monday, adding fresh concerns that digital platforms have become a breeding ground for expressions of Jew-hatred.
In a new report by the ADL’s Center for Extremism, researchers found that 4.2 million tweets were sent from roughly 3 million Twitter handles from January 2017 to January 2018. The average number of anti-Semitic tweets per week was 81,400.
The finding is based on a reviewed sample of 55,000 tweets and had a 3 percent margin of error, the report said.
The report did not search for non-textual expressions of anti-Semitism, like anti-Jewish memes or videos, but in many cases, they became part of the study when they were posted in conjunction with anti-Semitic text.
The ADL’s latest study on the subject is its second in recent years, and it indicates a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic language.
The Jewish civil rights group last released a similar examination in October 2016, which found a total of 2.6 million tweets containing language that was frequently found in anti-Semitic speech posted between August 2015 and July 2016, though that study only flagged tweets with keywords linked to anti-Semitism.
“This new data shows that even with the steps Twitter has taken to remove hate speech and to deal with those accounts disseminating it, users are still spreading a shocking amount of anti-Semitism and using Twitter as a megaphone to harass and intimidate Jews,” said the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt.
Twitter says it has made more than 30 changes to its platform, policies and operations in the past 16 months to protect its users from abuse and hateful images.
“We are an open platform and hold a mirror up to human behaviors, both the good and the bad,” the company said in a statement. “Everyone has a part to play in building a more compassionate and empathetic society, including Twitter.”
The ADL report — titled “Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter” — recommended various policy prescriptions for the company to temper anti-Semitic and racist vitriol on its platform.
The group said Twitter should codify in its Terms of Service language that “clearly prohibits hateful content” and ensure it’s rigorously enforced; use artificial intelligence to identify content for review; give users a filtering option to minimize the possibility of encountering hate speech; and establish an external review process so independent researchers can monitor activity on the site.
The ADL said it used a complex query of code words and symbols, statistical methods and expert analysis to develop this first-ever “snapshot” of anti-Semitic trends and themes on Twitter. A human review of the messages weeded out sarcastic expressions or tweets using anti-Semitic language to condemn it, the report said.
The report’s definition of anti-Semitic content included criticism of Israel or Zionism “when such criticism makes use of classic anti-Semitic language or conspiracy theories, or when it ascribes evil motivations to significant numbers of Jews.”
Researchers found that the most common anti-Semitic themes and trends on Twitter include longstanding anti-Semitic troops that Jews are greedy and exert control over governments, media and financial institutions; code words that serve as anti-Semitic symbols, like the notorious echo symbol; Holocaust denial; the claim that Jews killed Jesus; and common hateful epithets, such as “kike.”
There was also a rising trend of Twitter users citing Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer, to allege that Jews are perverted and routine sexual predators.
Moreover, there was widespread expression of anti-Zionism and classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories, including the enduring myth that the Rothschilds manipulate currency and control international events for the sake of enriching themselves and dominating the world.
The latest report did not mention US President Donald Trump, but the spike in anti-Semitic online activity — as well as other forms of abuse and harassment — have coincided with his rise to power. After an ADL audit found a substantial increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, Greenblatt did not hesitate to suggest the American leader’s rhetoric and behavior, especially on Twitter, was exacerbating — if not fueling — the problem.
“What’s new is today we have a situation where literally the presidential Twitter account is retweeting memes that originate on sub-reddits that are developed by some of the worst segments of society,” Greenblatt said.
“The president’s retweeting of white supremacists and anti-Semitic memes during the campaign and, more recently, sharing tweets from a UK racist group — those are alarming. Those tweets and rhetoric have emboldened and given encouragement to the worst anti-Semites and bigots.”