Jewish security group warns Elon Musk about threats on Twitter

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Citing “the most complex and dynamic threat environment” facing American Jews in history, the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit organization monitoring and responding to threats facing Jewish communities across North America, implored new Twitter owner Elon Musk to take steps to reduce violent speech targeting Jews on the microblogging platform.

In an Oct. 31 letter describing Twitter as a breeding ground and amplification tool for antisemitism, the SCN called on Musk — who has drawn criticism for what many see as a lax attitude toward hate speech — to enact security changes and remove three named accounts spreading anti-Jewish hate, as well as posts using antisemitic hashtags like #TheNoticing and #KillTheJews.

A study from Montclair State University showed a sharp increase in hate speech in the hours immediately following Musk’s acquisition of the social media network on Oct. 27.

In the billionaire’s takeover of Twitter, many saw an opportunity to flood the social network with hate and anti-Jewish propaganda because of Musk’s reputation as a free speech absolutist. Anonymous online posters launched a coordinated campaign using the hashtag #TheNoticing to spread anti-Jewish conspiracy theories (they were also capitalizing on the mainstreaming of antisemitic views coming from Ye, the rapper formerly called Kanye West). These online actors see an opportunity, their posts show, to hop from fringe message boards to a global platform.

“Now that Elon is taking over Twitter it’s time to finally put our skills to use,” wrote an anonymous user on 4chan, a hate-filled online forum, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The user called on others to use #TheNoticing hashtag and to “strike while the iron is hot.”

To SCN, the stakes are high. The Anti-Defamation League continues to track elevated levels of hate crimes targeting Jews in America, which account for the vast majority of crimes aimed at a religious group; high profile attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Colleyville, as well as assaults across Brooklyn and other parts of New York, exemplify the precarious situation facing America’s Jewish communities.

The image of Elon Musk is displayed on a computer screen and the logo of twitter on a mobile phone in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo/JTA-Muhammed Selim Korkutata-Anadolu Agency)
The image of Elon Musk is displayed on a computer screen and the logo of twitter on a mobile phone in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo/JTA-Muhammed Selim Korkutata-Anadolu Agency)

“Unfortunately, Twitter has played a significant role” in heightening the threat environment for Jews, the SCN letter and an accompanying press release noted, adding that “the safety and security of the Jewish community depends” on Musk’s response.

The appeal comes as Jewish organizations and civil society groups continue to express concern about the eccentric billionaire’s administration of the social media platform.

Leaders of the ADL, including CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, met this week with the Tesla and SpaceX founder and with representatives of other nonprofits including the Color of Change and the Free Press organization. Greenblatt said he was “cautiously optimistic” after the meeting and received commitments from Musk on three issues of concern: election integrity, content moderation and transparency in the re-platforming of banned accounts.

On Tuesday, a group of 40 nonprofits, including GLAAD, Jewish Women International and the NAACP, sent a letter to Twitter advertisers expressing concern about the platform becoming a haven for hate speech.

Twitter has always been home to hate speech and antisemitism, but in recent years the company has invested heavily in content monitoring and in policies to classify, report and remove overt bigotry and violent threats. The company has also made efforts to remove inaccurate election and medical information.

While many have celebrated these efforts —  including a ban on former president Donald Trump for inciting violence around the 2020 election — Twitter continues to face pushback from self-styled free speech defenders and many on the American right who deem it hostile to right-wing speech.

Musk, for his part, has promised Twitter will not become a “free-for-all hellscape” and has pledged to form a content moderation council to help make major decisions on speech issues.

Meanwhile, hate continues to run rampant on the site.

On Wednesday, a search of the hashtag #TheNoticing turned up a seemingly endless scroll of posts spreading lies about Jews controlling the media and Jews orchestrating mass immigration to Western countries (the “Great Replacement” theory shared by the Tree of Life shooter) and conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for the African slave trade, Jews acting as “masters” set on the enslavement of others and Jews running pedophile sex rings.

The SCN letter referenced a steady stream of Holocaust denial and the hashtag #KillTheJews on the site, which has about 230 million users.

The SCN asked Twitter to remove three accounts: @BWCbottom, used by a member of the Goyim Defense League, which by Wednesday afternoon had been removed from the site, and two other accounts, @JackPosobiec and @psyops_fren, which were still active.

The word “Fren” is widely understood as a wink-and-a-nod to neo-Nazis and far-right actors; it was frequently used by David DePape, who attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, with a hammer. The account @psyops_fren’s timeline is replete with anti-Jewish conspiracies and support for #TheNoticing campaign. “It’s working,” the account posted on Nov. 1, next to a graph indicating that Google searches for “Jews media” had increased exponentially in recent weeks.

SCN is requesting that Twitter disallow antisemitic content; improve reporting procedures so that banned content is “timely remove[d]”; “hire, train and support” moderators; remove antisemitic accounts and hashtags; and establish policies that “support the ability for law enforcement to identify accounts” determined to be threatening.

“I know firsthand the consequences of the violent, antisemitic rhetoric that is posted and hosted on Twitter, and justified through false arguments about the first amendment or freedom” the letter, signed by SCN director Michael Masters, said. “The problem existed before you got there, but you can be the one to fix it.”

Greenblatt said (on Twitter) that he had received assurances from Musk on “election integrity policy” and on the establishment of a “content moderation council” with representatives from various civil rights groups.

Musk commended the meeting with the civil society organizations and said Twitter “will continue to combat hate & harassment & enforce its election integrity policies.” Greenblatt called the meeting “productive,” adding, “ultimately, actions speak louder than words.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.