Home Society & Culture Study Reveals X (Formerly Twitter) Amplified Antisemitism During 2018 Midterms

Study Reveals X (Formerly Twitter) Amplified Antisemitism During 2018 Midterms

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Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have conducted an in-depth study examining the nature and spread of antisemitic rhetoric on X (formerly Twitter) during the 2018 US midterm elections. The study, published in the journal New Media & Society, provides a comprehensive analysis of how social media platforms like X serve as amplifiers for antisemitic speech within political discourse.

The study introduces the concept of “platformed antisemitism”, defined as the amplification and dissemination of antisemitic rhetoric through social media platforms. This concept is explored through a mixed-methods analysis of tweets related to the 2018 US midterm elections. The research highlights how specific features of Twitter, such as quote-tweets and hashtags, contribute to the spread of antisemitic content.

The researchers used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse a sample of 99,062 tweets. They identified antisemitic content by searching for specific terms and hashtags associated with antisemitic speech. The study employed Lasso regression to develop an antisemitism classifier, which helped refine the detection of antisemitic tweets.

The analysis revealed several key themes and patterns in the antisemitic discourse on X during the 2018 midterms:

  • Prevalence of conspiracy theories. The study found that antisemitic tweets often contained conspiracy theories about prominent Jewish figures, such as George Soros and the Rothschild family. These theories suggested that these individuals were attempting to manipulate political outcomes for personal gain.
  • Intersection with political movements. Antisemitic rhetoric was frequently intertwined with support for political movements like QAnon and Trump’s MAGA campaign. Hashtags such as #maga, #qanon, and #soros were commonly associated with antisemitic content.
  • Amplification through platform features. The research highlighted how Twitter’s affordances, such as quote-tweets, played a significant role in amplifying antisemitic speech. The study found that the percentage of antisemitic content increased when retweets and quote-tweets were included in the analysis.

Detailed analysis

Terms and hashtags

The study identified specific terms and hashtags that were most frequently used in antisemitic tweets. Terms like “Soros”, “Rothschild”, and “Zionist”, had high shares of antisemitic usage. The term “Soros” was particularly predictive of antisemitic content.

Themes in antisemitic discourse

The qualitative analysis revealed three primary themes:

  • Age-old tropes. Rehashing of long-standing antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories.
  • Debate around Zionism. Contentious and partisan discourse related to Zionism, often used to cloak antisemitic rhetoric.
  • Unexpected term usage. Certain terms were used in unexpected ways, such as satirical uses of “Nazi” and “Hitler” to mock political opponents.

Impact of quote-tweets

According to the study, the context that quote-tweets added frequently amplified the antisemitism of the original tweets. This amplification effect was observed with terms like “Zionist” and “globalist”.

The study’s findings underscore the need for nuanced approaches to moderating antisemitic content on social media. Simple lexicon-based methods are insufficient, as they may fail to capture the context in which terms are used. The research advocates for more sophisticated, context-sensitive moderation strategies to effectively combat platformed antisemitism.

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