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We Built a Bot That Trolls Twitter’s Worst Anti-Semitic Trolls

On Twitter, racists like to impersonate minorities like Jews and say viciously bigoted things in order to defame them. So we created a sheriff who calls them out on it.

Yair Rosenberg
December 02, 2016

As the No. 2 most-harassed Jewish journalist on Twitter per the Anti-Defamation League, I’ve become intimately familiar with the colorful cast of anti-Jewish bigots that populate social media. There are those who will photoshop you into gas chambers and concentration camps. Others like pairing Nazi quotes with Taylor Swift pictures. Some just stick to spreading slurs and conspiracies theories. On a whole, they are a rather sad and pathetic bunch, and mostly, I just ignore or mock them.

But there is one particular type of anti-Semitic troll that I find particularly pernicious: the racists who use their accounts to impersonate Jews and defame them. The con goes like this: The troll finds a picture of a very Jewish-looking person online—typically a Hasidic Jew in full regalia—and makes it his avatar. He puts a bunch of very Jewish descriptors in his bio (“Orthodox,” “Zionist,” “enemy of the alt-right”). He then proceeds to insert himself into conversations with prominent Twitter users—conversations that will often be read by tens of thousands of followers—and say horrifically racist things. Thus, it appears to unsuspecting readers that Jews are outlandishly bigoted. The same has been done with other minorities, from Latinos to African-Americans to Muslims.

Sickest form of anti-Semitism on Twitter: neo-Nazis who impersonate Jews to say racist things to try and defame Jews

— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) June 8, 2016

Now, it’s pretty easy to identify these trolls if one knows how to look. Their tweets are indistinguishable from alt-right racism. They regularly retweet the alt-right and other anti-Semites. And if one reverse image-searches the acount’s avatar, one can often find where it was stolen from.

The problem is, most casual social media users aren’t even aware that this sort of racist deception is being perpetrated, let alone trained to be vigilant for it. And Twitter isn’t really capable of the detective work to identify these accounts and take them down as they spring up.

So the question becomes: How can users fight back? Can this insidious tool of anti-Semitic harassment be defanged like the (((echoes))) that were previously used by internet bigots? The answer is yes, and it takes the form of a Twitter bot.

Working with developer Neal Chandra, we created an automated Twitter account that exposes these imposters in real-time. Meet Imposter Buster, social media’s new sheriff. He is programmed with an updated database of impersonator accounts, and every time one of them tweets, he automatically replies and exposes them with pre-programmed evidence:

@Rabbi_Yehudah1 FYI, this account is a racist impersonating a Jew to defame Jews:

— Imposter Buster (@ImposterBuster) December 1, 2016

The fake Jew troll relies on most Twitter users being unaware that they are being conned. Thanks to Imposter Buster, that is no longer the case. And its antics are already driving the trolls nuts. One of them changed his username multiple times in an effort to evade the bot’s replies. When that failed, he made his tweets private, effectively taking himself out of Twitter circulation. As is usually the case, alt-right bigots can dish it, but they can’t take it.

So, have you encountered a racist troll impersonating a Jew, African-American, Latino, Muslim, or other minority on Twitter? Send it my way at [email protected] and we’ll put the bot on the case. And do be sure to follow Imposter Buster and his exploits on Twitter!

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.