Since Trump Took Office anti-Semitic Posts on Social Media Have Spiked, Researchers Say

In the past week, two African-Americans were allegedly gunned down at random by a white male at a Kroger Supermarket, a series of 14 pipe bombs were sent by mail to prominent Democrats and Trump critics, and an attack on a synagogue left 11 people dead.

Researchers say that the rise in right-wing violence has been mirrored by a rise in anti-Semitic posts on Twitter and Instagram.  

A new study released on Friday by the Anti-Defamation League analyzing millions of tweets found that far-right individuals and groups have increased the amount of anti-Semitic posts in the runup to the midterm elections.

Separate researchers found an increasing number of false and dangerous conspiracy theories with calls for violence against Jews posted on Instagram that targeted Democratic billionaire donor George Soros, one of the intended targets of the pipe bombs.

Both groups of researchers say the social media companies aren’t doing enough to curb the types of false and dangerous posts, hashtags and conspiracy theories that could motivate others to commit similar violent acts.

The ADL study, conducted by researchers Samuel Woolley and Katie Joseff of the Institute for the Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab, found that there has been a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” against the Jewish community.

About two-thirds of the more than 7.5 million tweets and 8.1 million hashtags analyzed from August 31 to September 17, the researchers said, are from real accounts while the rest are likely bots. More than 80 percent of the anti-Semitic tweets and hashtags were from conservative or right-wing accounts, and nearly 40 percent included “#MAGA” or “#KAG,” Trump’s signature campaign slogans that stand for “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great.” The most common term used was “Soros,” short for George Soros, who’s been at the center of numerous far-right–and false–conspiracy theories.  

The study found that individuals or bots used the method of “Twitter bombings–barraging hashtags associated with the Jewish community with highly politicized, and sometimes hateful, content in an effort to demobilize, coopt and interrupt normal communication and organization over social media.” 

“The themes of this online harassment against the Jewish American community, especially against journalists and prominent members of this group, have been carried from the 2016 presidential election to the 2018 midterm content,” the study said.

Political commentator Rochelle Ritchie  warned Twitter of Cesar Sayoc, the man accused of sending the 14 pipe bombs, after he threatened her on the social media site. Twitter said his account did not violate their rules against abusive behavior. Following his arrest, Twitter responded again saying they had made a mistake and suspended the account.

Jonathan Albright, a Columbia University researcher, told NBC News the search results that came back for “#soros” were “shocking.” Between pictures promoting the “false flag” conspiracy theory, which falsely claims that Soros and the other targets of the pipe bombs were responsible themselves, to captions that read “Life is about stabbing a Jew,” Instagram said it was reviewing Albright’s findings for possible violations of its policies.

Albright recommended for Instagram to immediately shut down the hashtags that were tied to the anti-Semitic posts.   

Instagram, whose parent company is Facebook, and Twitter have said they are working to decrease these types of posts. Twitter, for example, has said it purged millions of accounts that are believed to be fake bots. But critics have said the social media companies, of which have large numbers of users and arguably have influence in the world of politics, have not done enough.

“Purging bots and getting rid of clear hate speech is not enough,” Woolley, one of the researchers of the ADL study, told NBC News. “There needs to be more sophisticated methods of getting rid of defamation and organized propaganda efforts.”

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