New Silicon Valley Cyber Center to Tackle anti-Semitic Online Hate

New Silicon Valley 'command center' will use technology to fight Islamophobia, racism, and other hatreds that 'have exploded online'

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Pepe the Frog, an internet meme, has become a symbol of the alt-right.
Pepe the Frog, an internet meme, has become a symbol of the alt-right.Credit: JTA Photo Service / Twitter
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

The Anti-Defamation League is setting up a new center to combat what it calls "the growing threat of hate online." The center, which the New-York based organization described on Sunday as a "state-of-the-art command center in Silicon Valley," will work to monitor different forms of hate speech on the internet, and work on mechanisms to fight back against it.

"Now more than ever as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other hatreds have exploded online, it’s critical that we are bringing best-in-class technology and resources to this fight. That’s why we will build this center in Silicon Valley," the group's CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said on Sunday, during an appearance at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. A press release by the organization said that funding for the project will come from the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic initiative.

According to a statement, "the center will employ the best technology and seasoned experts to monitor, track, analyze and mitigate hate speech and harassment across the internet, in support of the Jewish community and other minority groups."

The director of the new center will be Brittan Heller, a former Justice Department official who joined the ADL last September to focus on cyber issues. The organization did not provide a timeline for establishing the new center, but said that Heller and other ADL officials will work with "a wide range of stakeholders in Silicon Valley and beyond" over the coming months.

Last October, the organization published a report on anti-Semitism on Twitter, which detailed the clear rise in anti-Semitic attacks against American journalists on the popular social network. The report showed a particularly steep rise in the spread of anti-Semitic content on Twitter between January and July of 2016, possibly as a result of the U.S. election.

A screenshot of one of the anti-Semitic tweets Jonathan Weisman retweeted. Credit: Screenshot / Twitter

That report was one of a handful of recent studies to focus on how anti-Semitism played out on social media over the past year. It highlighted that more than two-thirds of the hate speech directed at Jewish-American journalists on Twitter came from a group of roughly 1,600 users, who in most cases identified as supporters of Donald Trump and of the far-right. One of the findings of that study was that Twitter only suspended 21 percent of the accounts responsible for majority of the anti-Semitic hate being spread on the platform.

Greenblatt said on Sunday that the new center will be "a natural extension of the cyber hate work ADL has been doing for decades and builds on the new presence we established last year in the Valley to collaborate even closer on the threat with the tech industry."

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