Early Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League released a report that exposed the online harassment of Jewish journalists on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election. Between January and July, the ADL study analyzed 2.6 million tweets and found that as many as 800 journalists, including those who don’t self-identify as Jewish, received anti-Semitic messages.
Essential to the study’s findings is the cluster effect that emerges within the data. The majority of the nearly 20,000 anti-Semitic tweets originated from the same 1,600 accounts. Of the subset of accounts generating the majority of hate speech, many self-identified themselves as white, nationalist conservatives in support of Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Words that show up most in the bios of these Twitter users are “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative,” “American” and “white.”
“This finding does not imply that Mr. Trump supported these tweets, or that conservatives are more prone to anti-Semitism,” the report states. “It does show that the individuals directing anti-Semitism toward journalists self-identified as Trump supporters and conservatives.”
The report also found that harassment increases when journalists, either directly or indirectly, critique Trump’s policies or his public comments. The ADL found a “spike” in harassment occurred in March when Trump was criticized for implicitly condoning violence at a political rally and again after he made controversial comments about a Mexican judge.
Rather than an unorganized “mob,” the trolls are, the report continues, organized and selective in choosing targets and launching campaigns. The ADL identified the echo symbols as a method white supremacists use for identifying and targeting Jewish journalists. In response, many Twitter users—Jewish or not—adopted the echoes around their display names as a counter.
This subversion of the symbol, however, is little recompense for the lack of a robust response to harassment from Twitter, the company. Jonathan Weisman, the New York Times reporter that left the service after extensive harassment, told the ADL that he thinks suspending an attacker’s account is “pointless.”
“Twitter has to decide if they are going to stand by their terms of service or not,” Weisman said. “If they decide tomorrow, ‘Look, we don’t have the capacity to monitor all of this, and we want it to be a free exchange of ideas,’ – then… we would know what it was. But they want to have it both ways – the halo of having terms of service, but not enforcing them. Or enforcing them only sporadically.”