A yearlong rise in anti-Semitic tweets has increasingly targeted journalists, especially prominent writers and TV personalities, according to an Anti-Defamation League report released Wednesday.
Of 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets posted to Twitter over the year prior to July, at least 19,000 were directed at journalists, the report said. More than two-thirds of the tweets targeting journalists were sent from Twitter users who consider themselves conservatives, members of the so-called alt-right movement of extremists, or supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump, the report found.
“The results are unambiguously disturbing,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt told The Huffington Post. “Fifty years ago, these people were hiding behind white hoods. Today, they’re hiding behind their keyboards and smartphones. The medium has changed but the message is the same: it’s anti-Semitism, it’s racism and it’s un-American.”
The nonpartisan ADL evaluated 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets posted during the year it studied and noted the number and the hateful tone has been rising as the presidential campaign continues. Those tweets reached about 10 million Twitter users, which the ADL said has the effect of normalizing hate speech against Jews and Israel “on a massive scale.”
But it’s journalists, particularly well-known ones, who “bore the brunt of” the Twitter abuse, the ADL report said.
The report found that 80 percent of the more than 19,000 overtly anti-Semitic tweets targeting news media personalities were directed at the same 10 prominent journalists, including Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times.
A number of journalists have reported threats and taunts to the ADL this year, most of them on Twitter, Greenblatt said. He said he had talked to many journalists who said they had begun to censor their writing and even considered leaving the profession.
“This is bigger than anti-Semitism against Jews,” said Greenblatt. “If people are self-censoring, if people are abandoning these platforms, there’s a threat to free press and to freedom of expression. These were attempts to silence and harass high-profile voices and to shut them down.”
The ADL formed a task force earlier this year to look at anti-Semitic and racist harassment of journalists on social media.
Greenblatt said this trend isn’t only bad for the Jewish community, but for society. Jewish people “are often the first victims of this kind of prejudice, but rarely the last,” he said. “Certainly you’ve seen in this campaign Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants — all being swept up in this sort of stereotyping.”
The majority of Twitter aggressors who attacked journalists included the words “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” or “white” in their bios. But Greenblatt said he hesitated to blame the abuse on either of the presidential nominees.
“To be clear,” the report noted, “this does not imply that the Trump campaign supported or endorsed the anti-Semitic tweets, only that certain self-styled supporters sent these ugly messages.”
A Trump tweet about Hillary Clinton contained an image featuring the Jewish Star of David. The campaign also has seen depictions of swastikas, including the vandalization of Trump’s Hollywood star, and a sign for media at a Trump rally; and an internet meme of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that was overtaken with racial slurs.
“How do we ensure we push this prejudice out of the public square, back into the shadows where it belongs?” Greenblatt asked.
The ADL plans to release a second report next month with recommendations about how that might happen.