Google removes anti-Semitic app used to target Jews online

Brian Schaefer

A Nazi flag (Hugh Rooney/Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

A Nazi flag (Hugh Rooney/Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Google has removed an app that allowed users to identify Jews online after a tech website brought the tool to widespread media attention and spurred a backlash.

Coincidence Detector, the innocuous name of the nefarious Google Chrome extension, enclosed names that its algorithm deemed Jewish in triple parentheses, a symbol that allows white nationalists and neo-Nazis to more easily aim their anti-Semitic vile.

The symbol was first exposed Thursday in an article on the tech website Mic by two reporters who had been targets of anti-Semitic harassment online. Google confirmed that evening that it had removed the app from the Chrome store, citing violation of its hate speech policy, which forbids “promotions of hate or incitement of violence.”

The reporters traced the triple-parentheses symbol, called an “echo,” to a right-wing blog called the Right Stuff and its affiliated podcast starting in 2014, The Daily Shoah. On the podcast, Jewish names received the sound effect of an echo, which then translated to a parenthesis in print as a visual pun.

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The echo has now emerged as a weapon in the arsenal of the the so-called “alt-right,” a vague, shapeless conservative movement living primarily online and comprising everyone from white nationalists to free-speech activists to traditional social media trolls who have been become more visible and vocal in the wake of Donald Trump’s fiery presidential campaign.

“Some use the symbol to mock Jews,” the Mic article explains of the echo. “Others seek to expose supposed Jewish collusion in controlling media or politics. All use it to put a target on their heads.”

As one user of the echo wrote on Twitter, “It’s closed captioning for the Jew-blind.”

Another echo user, known as @FamesBond, said, “With this tool you begin to see patterns, constant bias, a common theme. You want it deny it, rationalize it, fine, but we see it constantly. And that plugin shows it.”

Until it was removed, the product description read: “Coincidence Detector can help you detect total coincidences about who has been involved in certain political movements and media empires.” There was also a suggestions tab to submit Jewish names to be added to the algorithm.

At the time of its deletion, the Coincidence Detector had nearly 2,500 users and a five out of five stars rating.

Mic was tipped off to the use of the echo after Jonathan Weisman, an editor at The New York Times, retweeted a Washington Post article called “This is How Fascism Comes to America,” a scathing indictment of Trump.

Weisman asked his harasser, @CyberTrump, to explain the symbol. ‘It’s a dog whistle, fool,’ the user responded. ‘Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.’”

In addition to the action from Google, the report drew disbelief and protest across Twitter, with several Jewish users bracketing their names in multiple parenthesis to call out and mock the app.

Julia Ioffe, a journalist who became the target of a campaign of anti-Semitic harassment after she wrote a profile of Melania Trump in GQ that Trump supporters didn’t approve of, retweeted the article with bewilderment.

The Coincidence Detector is the latest trapping of anti-Semitism to come into public view during the 2016 presidential campaign — with most of the abuse coming from supporters of Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, who has done little to reign them in.

The Daily Beast reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, was included in the app’s code.

While the plugin was mostly focused on names, with terms like “Jews,” “Jewish” and “Holocaust” not targeted, a notable exception is “Israel,” which Coincidence Detector changed to “(((Our Greatest Ally))).”

The plugin could be set at various levels of intensity, from 0-100 sets of parentheses.

Writer Joe Veix dug into the plugin’s code and compiled a full list of the people targeted by Coincidence Detector.

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