Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaking to members of the media in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2018 (Photo/JTA-Alex Wong-Getty Images)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaking to members of the media in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2018 (Photo/JTA-Alex Wong-Getty Images)

Jews in Congress beset by online hate, new ADL report says

Jewish members of Congress have been subjected to a “deluge” of online hate speech this summer, according to a new Anti-Defamation League report, including aggressive and offensive tweets with antisemitic themes — from time-honored tropes about global conspiracy to claims about Jews financing the Black Lives Matter movement.

The report, prepared by the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley and released Tuesday, offers a snapshot of the online harassment that Jewish politicians face, and the challenges in tracking it.

“Social media platforms are breeding grounds for hate and antisemitism at a frightening scale, and as very public and sometimes polarizing figures, Jewish members of Congress often experience the worst of this on Twitter,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

The report surveyed a month of Twitter messages that mentioned incumbent Jewish senators and representatives, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. The center examined some 6,000 tweets between July 23 and Aug. 22. Ten percent were found to contain direct antisemitism or antisemitic tropes.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks at the group's 2018 National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo/JTA-Michael Brochstein-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks at the group’s 2018 National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo/JTA-Michael Brochstein-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)

Of those tweets, about half questioned the politicians’ loyalty to the United States, while close to 40 percent involved conspiracy theories around the billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros. Fifteen percent were related to the conspiracy theory that Jews secretly control media and finance (tweets could fall into more than one category).

The two biggest targets were Schumer and Nadler, with Feinstein coming in a distant third.

Only 7 percent of the tweets contained direct antisemitic language, the report said. The rest were less explicit, but still clear to their intended audiences, using terms like “globalist,” “anti-goyim media” and even “Bolshevik tribesman.”

While some social media platforms are getting better at finding and removing hate speech — Facebook announced in August that it would ban posts about Jews controlling the world after a boycott that the ADL helped lead — on other platforms so-called dog whistles easily slide through. And the lack of transparency on these platforms makes this kind of speech hard to track and shut down.

“It’s important to release publications like the OHI Election Report to keep the general public, policy makers and technology companies informed about the virality and nature of hate and harassment online,” Dave Sifry, vice president at CTS, said in an email to J. “Public reports of this nature also allow us to continue improving the toolset and analytical rigor of our research.”

The report uses the CTS’ online hate index, an artificial intelligence tool that uses machine learning to analyze and identify hate speech. But the tweets were also reviewed by researchers, who labeled them in a variety of ways: Holocaust denial, “deep state” references, use of the so-called echo symbol, or triple parentheses, to reference Jewish names, and comparing Jews to rats, Nazis, Communists, Marxists and Bolsheviks.

a man with a short beard and glasses holds a microphone and addresses a crowd outside
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at the Families Belong Together rally in San Francisco, June 23, 2018. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Not only national politicians are being targeted on social media. While not part of the ADL survey, state Sen. Scott Wiener has been the recent target of antisemitic and homophobic vitriol after sponsoring a bill to reform sex offender registration, with “more than 10,000 hateful attacks” pouring into Wiener’s inbox and social media accounts since August (including some sent to his elderly parents, his office said).

The report recommends that social media companies independently establish comprehensive, precise methods to identify not only antisemitism but all offensive language targeted at minorities, a necessary first step before hate speech can be taken off the platforms successfully. The report also asks lawmakers to encourage these companies to adopt greater transparency for the good of society as a whole.

“While Twitter has taken myriad steps to deal with hate speech that violates their terms of service, they’re not identifying or removing this blatant antisemitism quickly enough,” Greenblatt said. “Twitter must enforce their rules and remove such content swiftly and consistently.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.