ADL Task Force Issues Report Detailing Widespread Anti-Semitic Harassment of Journalists on Twitter During 2016 Campaign

Some 800 Reporters Targeted; 1,600 Accounts Responsible for Two-Thirds of Hateful Tweets

New York, NY, October 19, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Task Force on Harassment and Journalism today 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. 

ADL formed the Task Force in June 2016 in response to a disturbing upswing in online, anti-Semitic abuse of reporters. Task force advisors include working journalists, deans from two of the top journalism schools in the country, and experts on hate speech.

The report, the first of its kind, presents findings based on a broad set of keywords (and keyword combinations) designed by ADL to capture anti-Semitic language on social media. Using this metric, a total of 2.6 million tweets containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech were posted across Twitter between August 2015 and July 2016. Those tweets had an estimated 10 billion impressions (reach), which ADL believes contributed to reinforcing and normalizing anti-Semitic language – particularly racial slurs and anti-Israel statements -- on a massive scale. 

There was a significant uptick in anti-Semitic tweets from January 2016 to July 2016 as coverage of the presidential campaign intensified. 

Of the 2.6 million total tweets, ADL focused its analysis on tweets directed at 50,000 journalists in the United States. A total of 19,253 anti-Semitic tweets were directed at those journalists, but the total number of anti-Semitic tweets directed at journalists overall could be much higher for a variety of factors noted in the report.

The report also shows that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the anti-Semitic tweets directed at those journalists were sent by 1,600 Twitter accounts (out of 313 million existing Twitter accounts). These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, or part of the “alt-right," a loosely connected group of extremists, some of whom are white supremacists. The words that appear most frequently in the 1,600 Twitter attackers’ bios are “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative,” and “white.” To be clear: this does not imply that the Trump campaign supported or endorsed the anti-Semitic tweets, only that certain self-styled supporters sent these ugly messages. The data also illustrates the connectedness of the attackers: waves of anti-Semitic tweets tend to emerge from closely connected online “communities.”

The ADL Task Force study shows that a small cohort of journalists bore the brunt of the online abuse. The Task Force identified that some 19,253 overtly anti-Semitic tweets were sent to at least 800 journalists in the U.S. during the 12 month study. The top 10 most targeted journalists – all of whom are Jewish – received 83 percent of those 19,253 tweets. The top 10 includes conservative columnist Ben Shapiro, Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman, and CNN’s Sally Kohn and Jake Tapper.

According to the data analysis, Twitter deactivated 21 percent of the accounts responsible for the tweets aimed at journalists. The other offending accounts remain active, and ADL will be providing a list of those accounts to Twitter.

ADL's Center on Extremism continues to monitor harassment on Twitter and is encouraging journalists to report hateful tweets using the hashtag #exposethehate.

“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics. A half century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “We are concerned about the impact of this hate on the ability of journalists to do their job and on free speech, which is why we established this Task Force. We hope this report hastens efforts to combat the surge of hate on social media. We look forward to working with Twitter, media companies, and other online platforms to limit hate and harassment and preserve freedom of speech.”

While there has been a significant increase in anti-Semitic behavior since the start of the election season and spikes in activity around key campaign events, ADL’s analysis did not distinguish between anti-Semitic tweets directly motivated by campaign activity and those that may be independent of it.

ADL has been able to identify individuals and websites in the white supremacist world that have played a role in encouraging these attacks. While much of the online harassment of journalists was at the hands of anonymous trolls, ADL has identified two of the neo-Nazis responsible for some of the attacks.  They are Andrew Anglin, founder of the popular white supremacist web site “The Daily Stormer” and Lee Rogers of Infostormer (formerly “The Daily Slave”). While both are banned from Twitter, they have encouraged their followers to tweet anti-Semitic language and memes at Jewish journalists.

ADL published its first report on cyberhate in 1985. Since then, ADL has been an international leader in tracking, exposing, and responding to hate on the internet. The organization’s team of experts – analysts, investigators, researchers and linguists – use cutting-edge technology to monitor, track, and disrupt extremists and terrorists worldwide. 

ADL was one of the first groups to detail terrorists’ use of Twitter for recruiting, and ADL coordinates closely with U.S. law enforcement, warning it about online hate activities and trends in real time to help stop their spread and prevent harm to communities.

In 2014, ADL – in consultation with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, and YouTube – created best practices to counter online hate that have become a template for responsibility and a centerpiece for coordination between the industry and community. And in 2016, ADL’s Center on Extremism added the (((echo symbol))) and Pepe the Frog meme to its online hate symbols database. 

The advisors to the ADL Task Force on Harassment and Journalism are: Danielle Citron, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland; Steve Coll, Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Todd Gitlin, Professor and Chair, Ph.D. Program, Columbia Journalism School; Brad Hamm, Dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; Shawn Henry, retired Executive Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bethany Mandel, columnist at the Jewish Daily Forward and New York Post; Jay Michaelson, columnist at The Daily Beast and Contributing Editor at the Forward; Leon Wieseltier, Contributing Editor at The Atlantic and Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy at The Brookings Institution.

As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, ADL takes no position on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for office.

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