ADL report: 4.2 million antisemitic tweets over one-year period

NEW YORK – An estimated 4.2 million antisemitic messages were posted to Twitter over a 12-month period starting from January 2017, the Anti-Defamation League found in a groundbreaking new report released on Monday.

The in-depth analysis commissioned by the civil-rights organization provides the first-ever snapshot of the trends and themes of antisemitism on the social-media platform over the course of a one-year period.

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“Using proprietary research strategies to evaluate Twitter for thousands of possible antisemitic expressions, including classic stereotypes, code words, symbols and conspiracy theories, and conducting a human review to scan for sarcasm or other non-antisemitic uses of such terms, the ADL’s Center on Extremism found that at least 4.2 million antisemitic tweets were shared or re-shared in English on Twitter over the 12-month period ending January 28, 2018,” the organization said.

Those 4.2 million tweets were sent from an estimated three million Twitter handles. The margin of error is 3%.

Key findings from the research discovered that the majority of tweets employed classic antisemitic stereotypes, such as claims that “Jews are greedy or that they control banks, media, governments and academia.”

The investigation also found references to “antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as Jewish control of the US Federal Reserve, and the existence of a ‘Zionist Occupation Government”’; theological antisemitism, such as the claim that Jews are cursed for killing Jesus; Holocaust denial; common epithets used against Jews, such as “kike”; positive references to or promotion of known antisemitic personalities, authors, books, articles videos and podcasts; and code words and antisemitic symbols, such as the three parentheses ‘echo symbol.”’

The online anti-Jewish attacks fluctuated between a low of 36,800 in the last week of July 2017 to a high of 181,700 in the first week of December 2017, with an average of 81,400 antisemitic messages being uploaded every week over the studied time-period.

The report, titled “Quantifying Hate: A Year of Antisemitism on Twitter,” was released during the ADL’s National Leadership Summit, a three-day conference of more than 800 leaders and activists from across the country in Washington.

“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 antisemitism and using Twitter as a megaphone to harass and intimidate Jews,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said. “We hope this report will create a renewed sense of urgency among all social media providers that this problem is not going away and that they need to find innovative new ways to tamp down the spread of hatred online.”

“Algorithms and artificial intelligence will be key to identifying hate online, but human experts are needed to define the problem and, at least in the initial stages, to help the systems assess sentiment and eliminate false positives,” he said.

The topic that stoked the most anti-Jewish sentiment online culminated in the outing of disgraced former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, along with conspiracy theories associated with the Rothschild family.

“ADL analysts observed a wave of antisemitic commentary immediately after new reports surfaced about Harvey Weinstein’s history of alleged sexual abuse and harassment of women,” the report said. “The first story on October 5, 2017, fueled a surge of tweets focused on longstanding anti-Semitic tropes such as Jewish control of Hollywood and the media, and Jewish sexual degeneracy and perversion.”

Anti-Zionism, Holocaust denial and Hungarian-American businessman George Soros were also among the topics that engendered the most antisemitic posts online.

The ADL suggested that in order to combat the rising tide of discriminatory tweeting against the Jewish community and other minority groups, Twitter must institute a program “ensuring a comprehensive Terms of Service that clearly prohibits hateful content that is adequately enforced.”

Other ways Twitter can combat online bigotry was to employ “artificial intelligence to enhance efforts to flag content for review,” along with “ensuring users have an effective filtering option to decrease the chances they will encounter hate speech… and exploring external review and input by providing access to the platform’s data to independent researchers and members of civil society.”

“We are deeply committed to working with the industry to find new solutions to combating online hate and to help industry harness the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to filter out offensive content,” Greenblatt said. “We’re pleased that Twitter has already taken significant steps to respond to this challenge.”