▪ We traced and investigated #BanTheADL, a campaign that calls for the ban of the Anti Defamation League from X (Twitter). The ADL is a US-based civil rights group that campaigns against antisemitism and bigotry. The #BanTheADL narrative broke out on Aug 31, 2023, and is promoted by conservative, pro-Trump, and pro-free-speech personalities.
▪ Our investigation reveals that the #BanTheADL narrative is also amplified by clusters of inauthentic accounts. Those accounts share similar profiles (for example, using Trump's mug shot as their profile image), are created recently (in 2022 or 2023), and like and retweet messages in a coordinated manner.
▪ These inauthentic accounts constantly spread hate speech, share conspiracy theories, and deepen the discord around controversial issues. We recommend social media platforms to investigate and take actions on those accounts ASAP.
Timeline of #BanTheADL
Before Aug 31, 2023, #BanTheADL has been shared on multiple platforms but the hashtag received limited attention. For example, @fraktal._face is an instagram account that consistently posts derogatory memes and texts. On Aug 11, 2023, it sent several posts with #BanTheADL. Those posts received no more than 15 interactions each, and made little impact. We still strongly recommended Meta to take action on this account to reduce the spread of hate speech.
On Aug 30, 2023, Jonathan Greenbatt, CEO of Anti-Defamation League, posted on X:
"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 give her and @ElonMusk credit if the service gets better... and reserve the right to call them out until it does."
Within 24 hours, our system shows that hashtag #BanTheADL was already trending on Twitter. The first break-out moment for this hashtag was when conservative commentator Keith Woods tweeted:
"The ADL is an anti-White organisation which waged financial terrorism against this platform as soon as Elon Musk took over in an attempt to stifle free speech. It's time to #BanTheADL"
From Aug 31, 2023 to Sep 2, 2023, posts containing #BanTheADL gained at least 600,000 interactions (retweet, reply, and like) on X. As of Sep 10, #BanTheADL is still trending, with Elon Musk actively participating in many conversation threads.
How did #BanTheADL evolve from a fringe idea to a trending hashtag on X? In the next sections, we look at the original content posters as well as the amplifiers of their posts.
Who are the top spreaders?
The top spreaders are mostly real individuals (in another word, it is easy to identify and verify the account owner). Many are political commentators, reporters, and other media personalities.
▪ Keith Woods, @KeithWoodsYT, whose profile says "Writer at Substack, Host of Understanding Platonism | Free Speech Enjoyer".
▪ Jake Shields, @jakeshieldsajj, "former UFC/MMA fighter 5 time world champion".
▪ Sam Parker, @SamParkerSenate, "Ran for US Senate-UT. America 1st. MAGLA-Make American Government Local Again..."
▪ Lucas Gage, @Lucas_Gage_, "USMC Veteran, Husband, Father, ..., America-First Patriot, Free-Speech Absolutist"
▪ Chief Trumpster, @ChiefTrumpster, "media personality, ..., America First activist/reporter, gamer, real human being"
Following are some common characteristics among top spreaders (summarized by ChatGPT):
1. There are users with a strong interest in politics, particularly conservative and nationalist ideologies.
2. Some users have a focus on specific topics such as finance, investigative journalism, or combatting hate and discrimination.
3. Several users identify as Christian and prioritize their faith in their descriptions.
4. There are users who have a background in journalism, writing, or media production.
5. Some users have controversial or provocative descriptions, indicating a willingness to challenge mainstream narratives or engage in online debates.
Are there coordinated behaviors to amplify this narrative?
We identified multiple clusters of accounts that are amplifying the #BanTheADL narrative. Those accounts are not top spreaders, but they help promote tweets created by top spreaders, effectively making the #BanTheADL campaign seem bigger than it is in reality. We identify the following coordinated behaviors:
(1) Similar profile. One group of accounts use Trump’s mugshot as the profile image. The other cluster uses Pepe the Frog as the profile image. (What profile images did Group One use before Trump’s mugshot existed? More Pepe the Frog, and generic images -- based on our search via Wayback Machine)
Pepe the Frog was originally an harmless meme, but later became a symbol of the alt-right movement. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) included Pepe in its hate symbol database in 2016. In our #BantheADL data collection, Pepe memes were used in a hate-related context.
(2) Anonymous and unidentifiable. Accounts use generic descriptions (American First, Christian Futurist, Trump Supporter), and common URLs (for example, cozy.tv/nick, where far-right white supremacist political commentator Nick Fuentes does livestreams). We cannot attribute them to any real individual.
(3) Coordination. Accounts retweet, like, or quote tweets from other accounts such as @KeithWoodsYT, @libsoftiktok, @grimaceshake01 (a very suspicious meme account).
(4) Bot and spam behavior. For example, @sbossos was created in March 2022. As of September 10, 2023, @sbossos has liked 334.7k posts – an average of 2231 posts per day – or 1.55 posts per minute. This account is run by either an automated software or a full-time staff.
List of potentially inauthentic accounts
Below are lists of inauthentic accounts we identified. For each account we provide its screen name (URL) and account creation date.
More investigation is required to ascertain what rules those accounts violated. For example, if some accounts were associated with the same device / individual, that's a violation of platform manipulation policy. In other cases, accounts may violate policies related to hate speech and misinformation. We urge X to triage those accounts, and also to update its policies to protect real users.
Group 1: a list of accounts that use Trump's mug shot as their profile images. The majority of accounts are created after late 2022.
Group 2: a list of accounts that use meme images (such as Pepe the frog and grimace shake) as their profile images. The majority of accounts are created after late 2022.