It is an ironic fact that the most popular social networking service is called “Twitter” and messages shared on it, “tweets.” Chazal, after all, commenting on the bird-korbanos of a metzora — who may have been punished for telling lashon hara — explain that the “tweeting” of a gossip sharing information and sowing discord is comparable to a bird’s chirping.
What is often underestimated is the impact that the messaging service can have on its users. Anything goes, of course, in internet and social media postings, and whatever limits are attempted to squelch misinformation, false accusations and malign assertions are largely ineffective. The sheer number of people utilizing such media makes it a difficult challenge to ban bad actors, and, even should they be successfully banished from one site or platform, they can just appear again on others, or even on the same one in different guises.
A recent revelation of misuse of Twitter exposed a particularly egregious and ugly campaign.
Tablet Magazine senior writer Yair Rosenberg discovered that anti-Semites were weaponizing the social media giant by recruiting like-minded haters to create false “Jewish” persona and tweet messages that reflected negatively on Jews.
On an infamous internet image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images, and which has developed a reputation for serving as a platform for malicious posts and online harassment, Mr. Rosenberg found a post and thread of comments under a heading “Operation My Fellow Jew.” It called for “a massive movement of fake Jewish profiles” on social media that are “as authentic looking as possible.” By masquerading as Jews on services like Twitter, the poster explained, “you are able to subvert Jews themselves.”
Many were all too happy to heed the call, resulting in a swarm of Twitter posters purporting to be Orthodox Jews, Israelis or radical leftists — complete with false stereotypical Jewish names. Often, the masqueraders included photographs of identifiably Jewish people, lifted from other social media sites or from stock photograph services, claiming the photos were of them.
Some of the thoughts shared by the “Jews” who posted messages sought to confirm the beliefs of white supremacists like former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who has accused world Jewry of nefariously seeking to create a powerful ethno-state in Israel while plotting to weaken European countries by encouraging immigration from Asia and Africa to them.
Other imposters claimed to be from the far-left, offensive group Jewish Voice for Peace, and included links to that operation.
One posting claimed to be from a chareidi man, complete with a photograph, and stated that “Us Jews are too privileged for this society and it’s best that we stop believing in the myth of the Holocaust,” adding that “A Hebrew devil such as myself does not deserve shekels, but instead shackles.”
Other postings, from people with names like “Rabbi David Goldberg,” claimed that “racism” was rampant among Jews. A typical one read: “I am Jewish and see… hatred towards European people from Jews every day.”
Most of the fake accounts were suspended in the wake of Mr. Rosenberg’s exposé, and a Twitter spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “When we find accounts in violation of our policies, we take action according to our rules.”
Until the subterfuge was exposed, the postings caused some Jewish infighting, as several Jewish Twitter users, sensing the fakeness but not perceiving its source, blamed Jewish Voice for Peace for being behind the false profiles. One poster savaged the group for “trotting out fake Orthodox Jews to shore up its Jewish credentials.” JVP, to be sure, deserves criticism for its antipathy toward Israel, but not for a plot in which it had no role. The true culprits, however, no doubt enjoyed the inter-Jewish antipathy while it lasted.
There are myriad reasons to consider electronic social media an insult to propriety and a bane to civility. And it should surprise no one that the new technological soapboxes have been mounted by radicals and haters, giddy at the prospect of reaching until-now unimagined numbers of like-minded miscreants.
Nor should it surprise us that some of those speakers and their audience have chosen to try to spread the oldest and most persistent of hatreds.
Twitter is right, and to be commended, for doing what it can to remove hateful or misleading users of its service.
But we won’t likely see a true stop of irrational ill will until a different bird appears.
The Gemara (Chulin 63a) describes a bird called the shrakrak, which, Rabi Bibi bar Abaye says, usually sits on an object and cries out, signaling the arrival of rain. Should the shrakrak, though, sit upon the ground while crying out, it is a sign that Moshiach is imminent.
With the arrival of the go’el tzedek, may it indeed be soon, all malevolent chirpings will cease.