WASHINGTON — Three weeks before Americans cast their ballots to decide an election unlike any other, the Anti-Defamation League released a report outlining the rising anti-Semitic harassment of journalists that has taken place since the process of choosing the nation’s next leader began.
While numerous Jewish reporters have documented their experiences being targeted by trolls on social media and elsewhere, the new study quantifies the phenomenon.
The group’s task force, convened last June, found that roughly 800 reporters were subjected to anti-Semitic harassment from August 2015 to July 2016, for which roughly 1,600 accounts were responsible.
The report also said there was a total of 2.6 million tweets during that time containing language commonly associated with anti-Semitic vitriol, and estimated those tweets had 10 billion impressions.
The high exposure of these attacks on the popular social media platform led the committee to state it was worried the trend is “normalizing and reinforcing” anti-Semitism on a large scale.
“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement. “A half century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter.”
While the report did not suggest Republican nominee Donald Trump or his campaign is culpable for the onslaught, those who do engage in such hateful conduct were disproportionately self-identified Trump supporters.
Many were associated with the alt-right movement, which is defined by an extremist ethos and commitment to preserving the influence of the “white race.” Of the 1,600 Twitter attackers’ biographies on the site, many included descriptions like “conservative,” “nationalist,” “white” and “Trump,” according to the report.
The Anti-Defamation League assembled a task force earlier this summer to study the upswing in anti-Semitism aimed specifically at journalists.
After several Jewish journalists had came forward and described the virulent rhetoric and, in some instances, threats leveled against them — including freelance contributors Julia Ioffe and Bethany Mandell, as well as CNN’s Jake Tapper, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman — the group decided to summon experts to analyze what was unfolding and propose an effective response.
The committee comprised members of the media and academics at leading journalism schools in the United States, like Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Brad Hamm, dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism; and Leon Wieseltier, former literary editor of The New Republic and now a contributing editor at The Atlantic and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Throughout the campaign season, Jewish journalists were recurrently preyed upon by online actors.
After Weisman tweeted an essay about the rise of Trump by the neoconservative political scientist Robert Kagan — entitled “This is how fascism comes to America” — he became the object of anti-Semitic derision. He responded by retweeting many of the tweets directed at him to reveal their derogatory nature.
Ioffe, as well, became the subject of a torrent of insults and threats through social media, emails and phone calls after her April 28 GQ piece on Melania Trump. “I’m getting phone calls from a blocked number that play Hitler’s speeches when I pick up,” she tweeted.
After collecting the 2.6 million tweets, the task force then narrowed its examination to the 50,000 that were deliberately targeted at journalists. Of those tweets, they found at least 19,253 were unequivocally anti-Semitic attacks.
Oren Segal, who directs the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said that looking at the tweets made it clear the culprits are “anti-Semites and take an apparent pleasure in trying to encourage the harassment of Jews.”
He explained the process by which he and his team compiled the data to discover a “relatively small network” of social media users carrying out the attacks.
“We started off by setting up a set of key words and related phrases that we know are commonly used by anti-Semites or in anti-Semitic speech. When we set those criteria, the first pool of information that we got was the 2.6 million,” he told The Times of Israel.
“From that point, we overlaid that large pool of data to reach a list of 50,000 journalists, and then identified those tweets that were in response to — either a tweet or a reply — any one of those 50,000 journalists. From there, we had to manually review to make sure we were only focusing on anti-Semitic tweets.”
The report also identified two individuals responsible for fomenting many of the attacks: Andrew Anglin, founder of the popular white supremacist web site The Daily Stormer, and Lee Rogers, who runs the neo-Nazi website Infostormer.
Both are banned on Twitter, but have encouraged others to use the platform to carry out attacks.
While the ADL remains highly concerned about the level of anti-Semitic activity it found through its Task Force on Hate Speech and Journalism, Segal wanted to make clear it is not the only kind of hate permeating the web.
“This is very focused on one dimension, but not hate overall on Twitter,” he said. “That number would be very different, but we felt it was important to start understanding what we’re seeing now by narrowing our focus on these initial findings.”