Jewish Lawmakers Face Anti-Semitic Tropes Online - Word&Way

Jewish Lawmakers Face Anti-Semitic Tropes Online

WASHINGTON (AP) — Misinformation about billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros remains common among anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish members of Congress, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League.

For its report set for release Tuesday (Oct. 6), the Jewish civil rights group used an index it’s developing that automatically analyzes online speech for potential discriminatory content. The group then added a layer of human review to parse nearly 6,000 tweets mentioning 30 lawmakers in both parties.

In this June 21, 2019 photo, George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press)

The ADL found that 39% of tweets flagged as “problematic” — a label including both explicitly anti-Semitic content and content that was less blatant but still concerning — tied the lawmakers to baseless conspiracy theories about the 90-year-old Soros, a longtime donor. Among those, 15% cited other anti-Semitic tropes such as supposed Jewish control of financial systems, and 7% included explicit anti-Semitic language.

“Social media platforms are breeding grounds for hate and anti-Semitism 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 group urged social media companies to craft identity-based frameworks for analysis of hate speech and to invest more in enforcing policies designed to curb discriminatory rhetoric. It also called on Congress to pursue a formal report on the use of discriminatory speech online to influence voters, including the use of misinformation.

Lawmakers the report found were disproportionately targeted included senior Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, also of New York, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Both played prominent roles in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, which saw a resurgence of long-simmering attacks against Soros that were decried as anti-Semitic.

Laura Silber, chief communications officer for Soros’ Open Society Foundations nonprofit, said the ADL’s report “underscores the urgent need for … social media platforms to take responsibility for this surge of bile and stop providing a platform for it.”

“Hatred is a virus, and anti-Semitism is an especially virulent strain,” she added.

The report also underscored the difficulty of definitively identifying online speech as anti-Semitic, however. Another category of what the group deemed problematic tweets, which comprised 10% of those sampled over the course of one month this summer, questioned Jewish lawmakers’ loyalty to the United States, their honesty, their faith, or their ideology. Most of those tweets called the lawmakers communists or Marxists, speech the report acknowledged can be either “expressions of fairly benign but exaggerated political differences” or invocations of anti-Semitic tropes.

“Most tweets in this subset are either dogwhistles, or indistinguishable from political disagreement,” the group found.

The ADL also called on social media companies to work more closely with civil rights groups to identify less-obvious online bias. The anti-Soros tropes, the group said, “appear to either not violate Twitter’s Rules due to the lack of policies around these topics, or Twitter does not have the correct rubrics in place to make these decisions.”