Antisemitism watchdog adds (((echo))) symbol to hate list after Jews targeted

US antisemitism watchdog, the Anti-Defamation League, has added the “(((echo)))” symbol, used online by white supremacists to single out Jews, to its online database of hate symbols.

The group’s decision comes days after Google removed a Chrome extension that was being used by antisemites to add triple parentheses around the names of prominent Jewish public figures including Michael Bloomberg and New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman.

“The echo symbol is the online equivalent of tagging a building with antisemites graffiti or taunting someone verbally,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s chief executive. “We at ADL take this manifestation of online hate seriously, and that’s why we’re adding this symbol to our database and working with our partners in the tech industry to investigate this phenomenon more deeply.”

The intersection of old-fashioned white supremacy and antisemitism with tech-savvy online groups centred around websites such as 4chan and Reddit has given rise to a movement loosely termed the “alt-right”. The echo symbol is just the latest artefact of that group’s thinking to burst into the mainstream, thanks largely to an article in late May from the NYT’s Weisman highlighting its use.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was targeted by the antisemitic Chrome extension. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Weisman linked the antisemitism on display with the professed political support of those abusing him: the Twitter user who referred to him as “((Weisman))” went by the handle @CyberTrump.

But the denigration of Jews online extends beyond the Trump supporters highlighted by Weisman. An investigation by Mic revealed how widespread the symbol’s use has become, largely below the radar of the mainstream.

“To the public, the symbol is not easily searchable on most sites and social networks; search engines strip punctuation from results,” wrote the publication’s reporters, Cooper Fleishman and Anthony Smith. “This means that trolls committed to uncovering, labelling and harassing Jewish users can do so in relative obscurity: No one can search those threats to find who’s sending them.”

The pair trace the origins of the symbol back to far right blog Right Stuff. “In Right Stuff propaganda, you’ll often read that Jewish names ‘echo’. According to the blog’s lexicon page, ‘all Jewish surnames echo throughout history’. In other words, the supposed damage caused by Jewish people reverberates from decade to decade.” The parentheses are used to imply that same echo textually.

While many antisemites simply write out Jewish names with the parentheses manually, using it as a deliberate taunt, there was also a popular Chrome extension that automated the function. Named “Coincidence Detector” – a sarcastic reflection of the anti-semitic conspiracy that Jews control the media – it automatically flagged up common Jewish surnames to anyone who installed it.

Google removed Coincidence Detector on Thursday, citing terms and conditions that prohibit “promotions of hate or incitement of violence”, shortly after Mic wrote about the extension.

The publicity around the echo symbol has led to a counter protest, with Jews and non-Jews alike putting the symbol around their own names on social media, led by Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg:

— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg)
June 3, 2016

Want to raise awareness about anti-Semitism, show solidarity with harassed Jews mess with the Twitter Nazis? Put ((( ))) around your name.

— (((Faheem))) (@ims43)
June 3, 2016

@Yair_Rosenberg oh man I’m Muslim this will confuse them

— (((DCCyclone))) (@DCCyclone)
June 3, 2016

@fmitchell @Yair_Rosenberg @jonrosenberg Non-practicing Hindu, myself. But gonna go for it, hate Nazis.

The echo symbol is just the latest in a string of coded ways the far right has learned to communicate online. Neo-Nazis regularly adopt the numbers 88 – standing for HH, or “heil Hitler” – and 14, referring to “the 14 words”, the white-supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”.

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