Responding to increasing reports of anti-Semitic and racist campaigns in social media aimed at journalists covering the presidential election, the Anti-Defamation League today announced the creation of the Task Force on Hate Speech and Journalism that will “seek insights from a group of outside experts and representatives of journalism, law enforcement, academia, Silicon Valley, and nongovernmental organizations whose advice and counsel will help ADL assess the scope and source of anti-Semitic, racist and other harassment of journalists, commentators, and others on social media.
Any journalist with more than about six months’ experience knows that hate mail comes with the territory. It was true long before the emergence of social media, but email and its offspring have offered not only the shield of anonymity, but also an acid combination of immediacy and horde-building efforts that expand personal venting into wider-reaching campaigns with inevitable echoes of frightening events, from genocide to lynch mobs to the evil euphemism of ethnic cleansing.
As I write this, my wife and I are making our way to Vienna for the installation of a “steine der erinnerung” (literally “stones of remembrance” as they are known in Austria and “stolpersteine,” or “stumbling stones” in Germany). The bronze blocks commemorate lives lived in places where “it can’t happen here” but, of course, did, as when my wife’s family and friends were sent first to a transit site near the Gestapo headquarters in Vienna and then, on October 5, 1942, sent to the Maly Trostenets death camp in Belarus, near Minsk, where they were murdered four days later. How, we still wonder, did hate travel so fast and with such fury?
The social-media response to media covering the presidential campaigns also raises concerns about the spread of violence against journalists worldwide, including the Paris murders of thestaff of Charlie Hebdo and increasing imprisonment and silencing of journalists who refuse to toe a party line, as reported with regularity by such watchdog groups as The Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN International.
The ADL committee includes the deans of Columbia University’s and Northwestern University’s graduate schools of journalism and other top practioners in the field. Its mandate includes research to “determine whether and how this harassment is having an impact on the electorate or if it has a chilling effect on free speech; and propose solutions and/or countermeasures that can prevent journalists becoming targets for hate speech and harassment on social media in the future.”
The creation of the task force follows a widely-read Sunday column published in The New York Times by Jonathan Weisman, an editor in the paper’s Washington bureau. Under the healine “The Nazi Tweets of ‘Trump God Emperor’,” Weisman described the emails and social-media messages he’d received in the days since tweeting the link to an essay on the emergence of fascism in the U.S. The first, from “@CyberTrump,” read, simply, “Hello ((Weisman)).” @CyberTrump.
When Weisman, “intuiting that my last name in brackets denoted my Jewish faith,” asked for an explaination, the next message was, “What, ho, the vaunted Ashkenazi intelligence, hahaha! It’s a dog whistle, fool. Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.”
“With the cat belled,” Weisman wrote, “the horde was unleashed” and has yet to let up. ‘Trump God Emperor’ sent me the Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hooknosed Jew. I was served an image of the gates of Auschwitz, the famous words “Arbeit Macht Frei” replaced without irony with “Machen Amerika Great.” … The Jew as leftist puppet master from @DonaldTrumpLA was joined by the Jew as conservative fifth columnist, orchestrating war for Israel. That one came from someone who tagged himself a proud future member of the Trump Deportation Squad. ‘Old Grand Dad’ cheerfully offered up a patriotic image of Donald Trump in colonial garb holding up the Liberty Bell and fighting “against the foreign hordes,” with caricatures of the Jew, the American Indian, the Mexican, the Chinese and the Irish cowering at his feet.”
Among those journalists who have reported receiving harassing and hate-filled anti-Semitic messages on social media during the 2016 campaign season are CNN’s Jake Tapper, Julia Ioffe and The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
“Journalists are used to being criticized, but this election cycle we repeatedly have seen criticism quickly cross the line into ugly anti-Semitic and other hateful attacks including death threats,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL chief executive officer. “ADL has been monitoring, studying, and speaking out against anti-Semitism, racism, and other hate for years. We hope to bring our experience to this latest manifestation of it so we can take steps to address this challenge even as we strive to ensure that we do not jeopardize free speech and a free press.”
To date, advisors on the Task Force include:
Danielle Citron, Lois K. Macht Research Professor & Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and expert on online harassment
Steve Coll, Dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Todd Gitlin, Professor and Chair, Ph.D. Program, Columbia Journalism School
Brad Hamm, Dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
Shawn Henry, retired Executive Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Julia Ioffe, GQ Contributor and freelance writer
Bethany Mandel, New York Post and Jewish Daily Forwardcontributor
Leon Wieseltier, Contributing Editor at The Atlantic and Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy at The Brookings Institution
Other participants will be announced as added.