A hashtag campaign pushed by right-wing ideologues and rife with antisemitic content is trending on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and being shown support by owner Elon Musk. It’s a new low for a platform that has seemingly abandoned the fight against hate speech.
On Thursday, a number of accounts began tweeting #BanTheADL, calling on Musk to remove the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) from the site. The ADL is a civil rights organization focused on combating antisemitism and extremism. Momentum for the action seems to have been stirred by a meeting earlier in the week between the ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, and Linda Yaccarino, in which the pair discussed how to curb the hate and toxic propaganda that have flourished on X ever since Musk’s takeover last year.
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I had a very frank + productive conversation with @LindayaX yesterday about @X, what works and what doesn't, and where it needs to go to address hate effectively on the platform. I appreciated her reaching out and I'm hopeful the service will improve. @ADL will be vigilant and…
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 30, 2023
Some of the ADL’s most vicious, bad-faith critics took this opportunity to accuse the group — which Musk himself has criticized in the past — of stifling free speech. Among those who worked hardest to amplify #BanTheADL were mixed martial artist Jake Shields — who has railed against the nonprofit on social media for the better part of a year, at times alleging that they push children to be “gay and trans” — and Keith Woods, an Irish YouTuber with connections to prominent white supremacists including Richard Spencer and Nick Fuentes. The campaign also found allies in failed senate candidate Lauren Witzke, who has been known to push antisemitism; Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab, a web platform that caters to neo-Nazis; and Matthew Parrott, a co-founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that helped to organize the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. At one point on Thursday, #BanTheADL was the number one trending topic on X.
— Jake Shields (@jakeshieldsajj) August 31, 2023
#BanTheADL continues to dominate X. We all supported @elonmusk in his promise to restore free speech, but there is no hope of a free platform that collaborates with this anti-white hate group. Elon needs to listen to the people and stand up to the ADL! pic.twitter.com/Hvp6ZnDr5H
— Keith Woods (@KeithWoodsYT) September 1, 2023
— Matt Parrott 🧃 (@MatthewParrott) September 1, 2023
The hashtag predictably opened the floodgates to posts featuring antisemitic caricatures, stereotypes and conspiracy theories about how Jews have “enslaved” the rest of the world. 4Chan trolls rejoiced at the trend, throwing around slurs and offensive memes while speculating that “normies are waking up” and arguing that other prominent conservatives should “name the Jew,” or clearly and publicly express antisemitism.
Amid this flurry of extremism, Musk engaged with Woods, first by liking a post in which he falsely alleged that the ADL is “financially blackmailing social media companies into removing free speech on their platform,” then by replying that “ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter.” His evident enthusiasm for the attacks boosted them further while undermining Yaccarino’s efforts to convince advertisers that X is working to rein in the site’s hate accounts. (The day before, while celebrating the impact of the #BanTheADL campaign over on his Telegram account, Woods had shared a 2017 video of Richard Spencer in which the white nationalist declares, “This is a moment to savor. We just achieved a great victory.”)
— Keith Woods (@KeithWoodsYT) September 1, 2023
ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2023
Musk has been headed down this road for a while. The grudge against ADL in particular appears to stem from Greenblatt’s condemnation of his decision last year to reinstate Donald Trump on X. Then, in May, Musk likened billionaire George Soros — a perennial boogeyman for the antisemitic right — to a supervillain, claiming that he “hates humanity.” (Incidentally, Soros had just sold off a stake in Musk’s car company, Tesla.) Once again, the ADL took issue with his behavior, saying it would embolden extremists, with Musk firing back in a tweet that the ADL should “just drop the ‘A.'” That same week, he bought into conspiracy theories suggesting that a mass shooter who killed 8 people in Allen, Texas, couldn’t have been a white supremacist — and persisted in this view after police confirmed that the man had swastika and “SS” tattoos.
In early August, Musk further cozied up to the far right by raising fears of a “genocide of white people in South Africa,” the country where he was born. On Thursday, Musk reacted with evident alarm to a statement from Greenblatt on behalf of the ADL noting (accurately) that no such genocide is taking place, tweeting two exclamation marks. That material has fueled the absurd falsehood that the ADL is an “anti-white hate group,” repeated in many #BanTheADL tweets.
Needless to say, none of what the ADL does amounts to censorship, nor does the organization have any control over X’s moderation policies. To claim otherwise is to play directly into the antisemitic trope of Jews wielding outsize influence over major institutions. Moreover, while the group is not above criticism, and web companies are under no obligation to listen to its leadership, kicking them off the platform would hardly demonstrate the commitment to free speech that anti-ADL hardliners claim they’re fighting for. It also wouldn’t do much to revive Musk’s already tattered reputation as a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist.”
But perhaps none of that matters to him as long as he gets to punish his enemies while pandering to his extremist pals. Musk has come this far — what’s one more disgrace?
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