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Anti-Defamation League Steps Up Efforts To Combat Anti-Semitism Online

A disturbing feature of this election cycle has been the growth in anti-Semitic hate speech online.

Jewish journalists, in particular, have received insults, slurs and threats over Twitter and other social media.

The Anti-Defamation League announced this week it is hiring a representative in Silicon Valley to work with tech companies to help fight anti-Semitic abuse online.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tells NPR's Ari Shapiro the amount of "vitriol and hatred" during this presidential election has been "staggering." Greenblatt says tech companies need to step up their efforts in combating online hate speech.

"The ADL for years has worked with technology companies to deal with hate, but the fact of the matter is they need to do more," Greenblatt says. "The racists used to hand out their materials in paper bags on a street corner — today, they hand out their hate on Facebook.

"And they were, you know, burning crosses 50 years ago — today, they're burning up Twitter. So these companies have a responsibility to keep these platforms safe for all of their users, even as they respect free speech."

Interview Highlights

On recent examples of anti-Semitic speech online

So two examples that really caught our attention this year were when Julia Ioffe, a freelancer who was writing for GQ and did a piece on Melania Trump, after it was published, she was viciously attacked, harassed online, and that actually shifted also offline.

And she was targeted by white supremacists in a coordinated campaign that was really quite merciless. It included not only anti-Semitism but death threats and all forms of harassment.

Jonathan Weisman, who is the deputy political director for The New York Times, had tweeted a piece that was done by Bob Kagan about the election and that for whatever reason, prompted a number of these extremists to target him with similar harassment and hate that continued apace.

On how tech companies respond to policies that may limit speech

Earlier this year, we worked with Google and Apple to take down extensions and apps that were made available in their online stores that facilitated identifying Jewish journalists. It was called this echo symbol. ... And this was being used by white supremacists to identify people they thought, public figures, [who] were Jewish.

On the Trump campaign's failure to disavow white supremacist groups

We've been on the record and engaged with the Trump campaign because we were concerned about the use of these tropes and sharing these symbols. They're deeply problematic.

Now with that said, we think it's really important, particularly down this home stretch, that everyone running for public office, explicitly, firmly, not only disavows but makes it clear [to] the American people that racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance have no place in the public square.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff