Searching for the truth about on-line abuse allegations

Evening Standard headline

Recent studies question whether attacks on Corbyn supporters were ever justified

Dr Alan Maddison
28th February 2018


In a recently published study by the Community Security Trust charity (1), it was revealed that for the whole UK, over a 12 month period (from October 2015 to October 2016),  there were 2.7 million tweets concerning Jews, of which only 15,575 (0.6%) were considered to be antisemitic. The authors found this low proportion rather reassuring.

This CST study covered the period in which Ruth Smeeth MP claimed that, since the Chakrabarti press conference on 30th June 2016, she herself had received 25,000 abusive messages, mostly on twitter, with 20,000 of these sent over a single 12-hour period.(2)  Following this announcement Smeeth was quoted widely in the press as having said this abuse was being done in Corbyn’s name and that the Labour Party under Corbyn was no longer ‘a safe space for British Jews’.

The subsequent wide media coverage gives the clear impression that this abuse was mostly antisemitic, perpetrated by Corbyn supporters and that such behaviour had become ‘normal’ under Corbyn’s leadership.

The problem is that such a large number of antisemitic tweets, allegedly received by Smeeth, were not picked up in the CST survey which ran throughout that period. In fact the maximum peaks the CST team found were around 200 antisemitic tweets a day, and that was for the whole UK. This is a huge difference and needs to be investigated by the Labour Party.

While it is possible that not all of Smeeth’s tweets included the antisemitic key words used in the CST search, it seems unlikely that less than 1% of them did.

This CST survey is not the only prospective study into on-line abuse that raises questions about Smeeth’s previous claim about abuse becoming ‘normalised’ in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership. There are two more.

In one of these prospective surveys, by Liam Mcloughlin and Stephen Ward of Salford University (3), on-line abuse was tracked in 573 MP, for over 10 weeks from 14th November 2016 to 28th January 2017. Their results showed that MPs received a total of 4761 abusive tweets and that of the top 50, Corbyn and his supporting MPs had received more abuse than Labour MPs who had opposed him. In addition, those MPs who did not appear in the list of the top 50, including Smeeth, would have therefore received less than 50 abusive tweets over the whole 10 week period.

In a second prospective study published by Azmina Dhrodia for Amnesty (4), on-line abuse was tracked for 177 female MPs over the 6 month period from 1st January to 1st June 2017. Of the total of 900223 tweets received in total, 25658 (2.85%) were judged abusive.

Below are the top five women MPs receiving the most on-line abuse. Over the 6 months period there were two Corbyn-supporting MP victims in this top 5 group, with Diane Abbott getting around 8 times more abuse than the other four as illustrated below.

Source: Azmina Dhrodia, Amnesty Global Insights, 2017

Once more Ruth Smeeth did not appear in the top group for abuse, which in this study would mean she had received fewer than 5 abusive tweets on average each day over this 6 months period.

Yet again, in this study Corbyn supporters received far more abuse than others, both over the full 6 months period, and in the last 8 weeks run-up to the General Election, when Jess Phillips dropped out of the top 5 to be replaced by another Corbyn supporter Angela Rayner.

Diane Abbott, who had never previously complained to the media much about her abuse and death threats, received 8,121 abusive tweets over this full 6-month period – almost eight times more than any other female MP. Yet this exceptional number was still well below the 20,000 claimed by Smeeth over a period of just 12 hours.

The serious discrepancy between Ruth Smeeth’s allegations, and the findings of these three prospective studies, does raise very important questions for the Labour Party, given the obvious damage caused to its reputation.

With the national media coverage obtained, Smeeth’s repeated criticism of Corbyn, and his supporters, backed up by these on-line abuse allegations, has clearly contributed to tarnishing the image of the Labour Party, its leader and its members.  In one survey on voting intentions (5), one in three people questioned said they would hesitate to vote Labour because of its perceived problem with antisemitism.  So Labour’s electoral chances also seemed to have been damaged by such allegations of antisemitism coming from Smeeth – and a number of others. This despite the fact that the Home Affairs Select Committee, in their report into antisemitism (October 2016), stated that they could find no convincing evidence that antisemitism was more prevalent in the Labour Party than in other political parties.

Smeeth is reported to have spoken at a Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) meeting at the Labour Party Conference in September 2017 (6), about the need to ‘break and destroy’ the leaders of this alleged Labour Party antisemitism. Rather than improving, the atmosphere generated seems to be even more toxic and divisive than in 2016. Such words as ‘break and destroy’ could be taken as an incitement to violence against fellow Labour members. At the very best it is loose language that should be strongly discouraged. This would not be the first time though. Ella Rose, the Director of the JLM, was filmed threatening to physically attack the anti-racist supporter of Palestinian human rights, Dr Jacqueline Walker (7). These threats from a member of the JLM, an affiliate to the Labour Party, are obviously unacceptable and should not be ignored.

Sadly some abusive behaviour, including that motivated by antisemitism, exists across society and all political parties. It is offensive and intimidating and it needs to be tackled in an intelligent manner. But there is no justification for allegations that abusive behaviour, or antisemitism, being more prevalent amongst Corbyn supporters than other Labour members, or indeed the general population. The allegation that most of Smeeth’s abusive messages were sent by Corbyn supporters is very serious and needs to be investigated.

Implementing wide-ranging anti-racist training sessions, which would include antisemitism, could clearly provide a constructive approach. But equally clearly, the politicised sessions – currently proposed and run by the JLM – are not appropriate.

Such education should not be limited to Labour Party members, as there is no convincing evidence to support Smeeth’s implications that they have a “particular” problem with antisemitism or racism, nor that Corbyn’s Labour is “not a safe space for British Jews”. In fact, Corbyn-supporting MPs received more abuse than MPs opposed to him in both studies, which suggest more abuse is coming from groups other than Corbyn supporters, who indeed, based on these studies, have been unfairly demonised.

Given the serious electoral and reputational consequences for the Labour Party, its leader, and indeed the possible impact on millions of Labour voters too, it is important that the Labour Party undertake a full and urgent investigation into the 25000 abusive messages that Ruth Smeeth reported, and her related criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

References

 1. Antisemitic Content on Twitter, 2018 Community Security Trust

2. Ruth Smeeth: I’ve never seen anti-Semitism in Labour like this, its normal now, Evening Standard, 20th September 2016

3. Liam McLoughlin and Stephen Ward, Turds, Traitors and Tossers: The abuse of UK MPs via twitter, European Consortium of Political Research Joint Sessions, University of Nottingham, Nottingham April 25-29 2017

4. Azmina Dhrodia, Unsocial Media: Tracking Twitter Abuse against Women MPs, Amnesty Global Insights. September 4th 2017

5. Benjamin Kentish, Third of voters may not vote Labour because of alleged anti-Semitism, poll suggests, Independent, 30th March 2017

6. Jenni Frazer, Ruth Smeeth at JLM conference: ‘Only anti-Semites are weaponising anti-Semitism’, Jewish Times of Israel, 4th September 2017

7. Ella Rose (Israeli Martial Artist) Wanting to Take Out Jackie Walker #Israel Lobby JLM

Comments (31)

  • Neil Cameron says:

    Superb, well researched article! Thank you, Alan Maddison

  • Mike Scott says:

    None of this is at all surprising, but the question is how can it be effectively circulated to the public? It seems unlikely that the LP would want to instigate an investigation into the allegations, as this would inevitably generate further hysterical headlines, so perhaps the best approach might be to make a formal complaint against Osborne’s Evening Standard?

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    If your research is correct Alan, then there is an urgent need for an investigation. The implication is that Ruth Smeeth has lied about the number and originators of abusive tweets she received and has intentionally damaged the party’s electorion chances and reputation.

  • John says:

    Frankly, I would not trust any of the claims made by Smeeth.
    It is at least certainly arguable that her activities – and those of her JLM friends – may well have cost Labour the June 2017 general election.
    She – and they – should all be kicked out of the Labour Party.
    It is now clear that she and they succeeded in damaging the electoral prospects of the Labour Party.
    How can they be allowed to remain in the party after their behaviour?
    Others have been thrown out/expelled for very very much less.

  • George Wilmers says:

    This is an important analysis which should be widely disseminated.

    I would like to add that the CST statistical study also provides some striking evidence in favour of the proposition that nothing is more effective in generating real anti-semitism than false or mendacious allegations of anti-semitism made against popular public figures. On pages 16 and 17 of the CST report there are two graphs showing respectively the number of UK tweets referring to Jews, Nazis, or anti-semitism, and the number of those tweets which were judged by CST to have an anti-semitic content. Both graphs show a very large spike in May 2016 when Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah were being widely demonised in the corporate media for “anti-semitism”.

    What is interesting however is what happens to the graphs in the remaining months of 2016. The CST report comments:

    “It is of interest to note that the overall frequency of antagonistic content on Twitter is higher in the second half of the data collection window compared to the rest (an average of 1,380 antagonistic tweets per month post-April 2016 compared to 1,042 antagonistic tweets per month pre-April 2016). This matches previous research ndings that, when temporary increases in online hate speech have receded, they can leave behind a new, higher baseline of online hate. This 32 per cent sustained increase in antagonistic content also correlates with an increase in online and of ine antisemitic incidents reported to CST in the same period, with the highest recorded number in May 2016 (CST, 2016a).”

    Of course CST refrain from drawing the obvious conclusion that the biggest inciters of real anti-semitism are the Israeli government and their rightwing collaborators in the media and in Israeli front organisations such as the misnamed JLM. When such organisations issue vile attacks against principled socialists and anti-racists, while impertinently affecting to do so in the name of all Jews, it is actually a tribute to the tolerance and political awareness of Labour party members that there so little anti-semitism within the party.

    • Alan Maddison says:

      Yes your observations are interesting George,thanks.

      In the annual CST Incidents Reports they also often refer to the publicity created, often by their supporters, around allegations of antisemitism in Labour as stimulating more antisemitic abuse. It would seem sensible to minimise such publicity if the true aim was to reduce antisemitic incidents, rather than perhaps stop Corbyn becoming PM.

      Some may exaggerate the prevalence of antisemitic but it carries a risk, as after the brexit vote, of legitimising such racism for some perpetrators, who are emboldened with the belief that many share their antisemitic views.

  • Daniel says:

    Of course all of this merely confirms what we already knew, that the allegations were entirely fabricated and that Smeeth was lying through her teeth. Indeed, we also know exactly why. One has only to look at the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Facebook page to see that a serious number of their crappy articles are dedicated to defacing Corbyn and the left of the Labour party. They are not exactly making a secret of it. In this article I spell it all out and when one actually does the maths, what these fake accusations actually amount to is meddling by Jewish organisations like the CAA and JLM in British politics. It is of an insidious type, since it is to some extent ‘legal’ and its aims are to ensure that Labour’s neoliberal policies, including its generous tolerance of Israeli human rights abuses are maintained after the elections.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/daniel-waterman/the-new-inquisition-campaign-against-antisemitism-drops-its-mask/2058157304473862/

    The one claim in this article that sounds unreliable is that anyone would not vote Labour for its ‘antisemitism’ because one would have to be extremely thick to believe the allegations. Or to think they are actually a threat to Jews. In my experience of online harassment most of the antisemitic statements are just poorly articulated sentiments concerning the role of Jewish organisations and Israel. Hardly the substance of antisemitism. People believe tropes and use them because they are inarticulate and ignorant. But the political conditions today are entirely different than in the 1930s in Germany and elsewhere. As a Jew, secular, pro-Palestinian, anti-racist, I feel our real concern is with civil rights, human rights, justice and ensuring a transition to a more equitable political system. I am perfectly confident that this can all be accomplished and hopefully people like Smeeth who think they are somehow doing the right thing will be exposed for the fools they really are.

  • Dave Rich says:

    I’m afraid your analysis is completely wrong. Firstly, the CST report only considered tweets that could be located in the UK, which was 8.5% of the total number of English-language tweets captured by the keyword list. That doesn’t mean they weren’t UK-based or tweeted at someone in the UK from elsewhere – just that they couldn’t be positively geolocated in the UK. Most tweets of all kinds are not geotagged so this percentage is fairly standard. See page 5:

    “Over 31 million tweets related to Jews and antisemitism were collected globally from Twitter in the 12-month study window. Approximately 2.7 million of the tweets could be located within the UK, and these formed the dataset for analysis.”

    This means that the number of antisemitic tweets used for the analysis in the report is likely to be the same proportion, 8.5%, of the total number of antisemitic tweets that year.

    Secondly, the report used a limited keyword list which did not cover the full total of antisemitic tweets in circulation. See page 13:

    “This list was not intended to be a comprehensive set of keywords relating to all aspects of antisemitic hate speech. In particular, much antisemitic hate speech comes in the form of conspiracy theories (or allusions to such theories) and images that would not be captured by these keywords. This caveat should be borne in mind when assessing the overall quantity of antagonistic content measured by this research.”

    (The full report is here https://cst.org.uk/data/file/4/2/Antisemitic%20Content%20on%20Twitter.1519298247.pdf)

    Put these two factors together and you can see that you have completely misread the data in the CST report and therefore the rest of your analysis falls apart. You are simply not comparing like with like. In addition, you have done this – as with your flawed analysis of all CST reports – in order to downplay the quantity and seriousness of antisemitism as experienced by Jews in this country.

    • Alan Maddison says:

      Thank-you Mr Rich for your comments, but I find your allegation that my analysis “is completely wrong” is not justified by the arguments you provide.

      The three prospective studies referenced in my article concerned on-line abuse in the UK.

      The CST publication cited also covered on-line abuse originating in the UK, even if possibly under-estimated. The authors reported that 9008 original tweets out of 2.7 million total UK tweets were antagonistic towards Jews. Including retweets this rose to 15 575, and as my article was about antisemitic on-line abuse originating in the UK, this 15 575 was chosen as the relevant figure.

      I understand that the CST study may not have captured all the tweets originating from the UK, but any under-estimation could not possibly explain the magnitude of discrepancies described in my article.

      Antisemitic abuse from other parts of the globe were of little interest for this article, given that the allegations from Ruth Smeeth, and how they were covered in the UK media, implied the involvement of Labour Party members, and the vast majority of these live in the UK.

      I am also aware of the limitations of the key words used to define abuse antagonistic towards Jews in the CST study, and so said in paragraph 5 of my article, “While it is possible that not all of Smeeth’s tweets included the antisemitic key words used in the CST search, it seems unlikely that less than 1% did.”

      As I explained,this 1% is based on the 20 000 abusive messages that Smeeth says she received over a single 12 hour period, and the data in Figure 2 of the CST report indicating that total antisemitic daily tweets in the UK never even reached 200 during this period.

      I am sure there is some explanation for the discrepancy between Smeeth’s allegations, and the findings of these three prospective studies, but despite your comments, I still consider that a further investigation is warranted.

      There is also the issue of attribution of such abuse to Corbyn supporters. Interestingly, your own CST annual incidents reports indicate 60-70% of antisemitic abuse, where a political motivation is apparent, comes from the Far Right.

      • Dave Rich says:

        Alan, your argument is based on an assumption that the number of antisemitic tweets used for analysis in the CST report represents the total number of antisemitic tweets in existence that year. It doesn’t – nowhere near it, in fact – for the reasons I’ve explained, so the data in the CST report simply doesn’t support your argument. If your purpose is to provide an objective analysis rather than to pursue a political goal, you should admit your mistake and remove references to the CST report from this article.

      • Dave Rich says:

        One more point: you write that “I understand that the CST study may not have captured all the tweets originating from the UK, but any under-estimation could not possibly explain the magnitude of discrepancies described in my article.”

        Actually it easily could, because the report states that its analysis is based on just 8.5% of the tweets captured by the keyword search (and even this search was not comprehensive).

        • Alan Maddison says:

          Dave, I understand your argument but have already answered your points.

          In the CST article it is stated there were 31 million tweets concerning Jews globally. Using various methods described in the study, 2.7 million or 8.5% were attributed to the UK. As you say this is an under-estimate, but even if your study was so flawed that almost all these 31 million tweets were from the UK, that would still not explain the discrepancies exposed in my article. These discrepancies, as I said, relate to a factor of around 100 and not one of up to a very maximum of 12 as you suggest (100/8.5).

          I do consider your CST study to be of interest, as are the other two studies, each with their limitations, but none flawed to the extent they can’t provide useful data. I invite people to read all three studies themselves for greater insight.

          No publication is perfect. In your own CST incidents publication for 2016, there were only 289 reports of antisemitic on-line abuse for the full year in the UK. WE know that such data is limited by significant under-reporting, yet I think still worthy of publication.

    • Stephen Bellamy says:

      Hi Dave. All these antisemitic assaults that you have ” reporte”. How many prosecutions have there been?

  • Alan Maddison says:

    Thanks for all your interesting comments.

    The findings of these three studies do raise serious questions about the previous allegations made against Corbyn and his supporters.

    I would suggest that an investigation needs to be undertaken by the Labour Party itself, as most of these attacks originate from within the Party.

    In the meantime, we need to be careful not to fall into the same trap of making more specific personal accusations without yet having the full facts.

    We want Labour to win the next election, so if we can reduce the number of Labour MPs or other Members running to the media with such apparently unjustified attacks, this must surely help?

  • stephen law says:

    Where does Smeeth say the bulk of the 25k abusive messages were mostly on twitter? It’s not in the linked article.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    See the post by Jonathan Cook “Labour MP’s anti-semitism claims don’t add up”, 1 March 2018, based on this article, at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2018-03-01/labour-mp-anti-semitism-claims/

  • G B Millward says:

    CST received 37.7 million in funding from the Home Office over the last 3 years https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/home_office_funding_for_communit

  • John Spannyard Indaworks says:

    Great article Alan and an interesting discussion follows with thoughtful informed comment and much additional interesting information. It may be a trite observation but last year CST were handed £13 million and are awash with cash, so I find it very interesting that even CST who have a financial incentive to play up the threat of anti-semitism, their undoubted genuine concern aside, are unable to support Smeeth’s I claims despite Dave Rich’s valiant efforts above. As Steve Bellamy points out above, their do not appear to have been any prosecutions for anti-semitism nor thankfully have any members of the Jewish community been murdered as an anti-zionist semitic/racially motivated crime – however last year two Polish men were murdered in the UK. According to the 2011 census there were 259,927 people identifying themselves as “Jewish” whilst the number of Polish was 579,121 and recent estimates have that figure to be nearer a million.It kind of puts the supposed threat to the Jewish community info perspective, however by some glaring oversight we appear not to have provided the Polish community with their own police force.

    • Alan Maddison says:

      Thanks for your comments John. I think the sad thing is that there are so many genuine hate crimes (over 80 000 last year} and racism accounts for 78%, compared with a 1.3% share for antisemitism. Racial prejudice is plastic and new victim groups can be targeted anytime, especially if the media incites such hatred, as with Muslims and Immigrants.

      To deflect our anti-racist efforts with an apparent manipulation of antisemitism for political motives, seriously undermines out attempts to protect vulnerable communities and educate people towards more inter-racial understanding and inclusiveness. It is a disservice on all good Jewish people in this country and has to stop.

  • Annie Weatherly-Barton says:

    If it was not for Jewish Voice for Labour I would think I was heading for the funny farm. I’m utterly incensed that there appears to be one rule for one section of Labour and another for the rest. Just in despair and had it with Labour Party. I will continue to support Mr Corbyn & vote Labour but I am no longer sure I can be a member of a party that discriminates in such an abhorrent way. Two Labour MPs committed A-S with glee in order to berate Mr Corbyn. Great many of us complained and nothing has been done; Mrs Diane Abbott has been abused by two MPs and nothing has been done; Ms S said she received 25k A-S tweets in less than 24hrs – I know that just cannot happen! Has anything been done to address that lie? No. Mr Mann says every single member of Momentum will be taken to court for Antisemitism. Has anything happened to address this accusation? No. Today article about Board of Deputies says nothing about Antisemitism but instead talks about “Corbyn Situation!” To me that says it all about what agenda is being used. Now we have RW Lab Tail wagging Labour Party Dog. We are all being silenced. I hope we are reading this loud and clear. We are now in very dangerous waters indeed. Unless this victimization of innocent people doesn’t stop there will be a stampede for the door where Party membership will be torn up.

  • Ian Gibson says:

    Using police and CST figures, there’s also an interesting outcome which is contrary to the prevailing narrative if you calculate the pro-rata odds of being a victim of an assault in the UK: for the general public, it’s 13.5/1000, for all racist hate crimes it’s 1.6/1000 and for an anti-Semitic assault it’s 0.4/1000

  • An excellent article and as commented above we need to get this into wider circulation.

    Sadly, there are no surprises here in regards to the disinformation by the right of the party and their media allies.

    Two quotes from Cardinal Richelieu* neatly sum up the tactics of this right-wing offensive against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn:

    “To mislead a rival, deception is permissible; one may use all means against his enemies.”

    “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.”

    So remember. When you see characters like Tom Watson appearing on TV to hurl abuse at party members, this is the classic playbook of those defending power and privilege…

    *One is a disputed attribution: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Cardinal_Richelieu

  • Jan Brooker says:

    Missed this first time around. Just re-posting it online now. An excellent summary, up there with the recent exposés by Jonathan Cook.

  • Malcolm Wall says:

    Thank you so much for this actual due diligence. You have raised some very serious questions that really need to be answered with alacrity, whether this happens remains to be seen. Excellent reportage!

  • Linda says:

    Really enjoyable to read as it confirms with empiricism
    my own experience over years of membership since 1981. On Twitter I have said that I have never heard or seen AS in the Party, which brought some nasty tweets in reply, questioning my judgment.

    This article is very welcome. I see tweets daily from anonymous people claiming to be a member of something and then being abusive. It’s clear they’re agents provocateurs .

  • Richard Pink says:

    Well let’s be honest it just proves what we all knew intuitively all along i don’t think many people will be surprised !

  • Elise Mustard says:

    Good article. Do you have any thoughts on why there is this series of accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party? A while ago one of the reasons that came up in an interview on Radio 4 was Corbyn’s pro Palestine stance. Do you think this notion has any traction?

  • Pat Marie says:

    The problem is that the Blairite MPs will do anything to stop a Corbyn government. As will the BBC and all other main news channels and virtually all newspapers. So this truth will never be heard by anyone outside of Corbyn supporters.

  • patrick kerrigan says:

    Jeremy Corbyn must challenge this obnoxious gang of Israeli Fifth Columnists and expose their real motive that is for them to undermine agreed Labour Party policies to the detriment of the British people and to assist the machinations of a rogue foreign power.Then they must be expelled from the Labour Party.

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