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Harassed Jewish Journalist Creates Twitter Bot to Troll the Trolls

The bot goes after Trolls who impersonate minorities to make them seem racist.

What's the best way to deal with internet trolls? Troll 'em back. As the second most harassed Jewish journalist on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League, Yair Rosenberg teamed up with web developer Neal Chandra to create a Twitter bot called Imposter Buster to fight anti-semitism.

In his Tablet article, Rosenberg describes a particular set of internet trolls who impersonate Jews or other minorities and post racist Tweets to make it look like said demographics they're targeting are bigoted. For example, one troll who named himself Yehuda Finkelstein on Twitter used a Wikipedia picture of a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shlomo Goldman, as his avatar.

However, unless you have a keen sense for these types of trolls, they would get away with their impersonations—that is, until now. Rosenberg and Chandra designed the Imposter Buster to automatically respond and call out the impersonators every time they Tweet. For example, the bot will Tweet, "FYI, this account is a racist impersonating a Jew to defame Jews" in a reply to accounts like Yehuda Finkelstein's.

"In the wake of Trump's election, some of the more odious elements of society think they're winning," Rosenberg told Motherboard. "To me, the best response to these sorts of people on social media is finding creative ways to show them that they remain marginalized." Imposter Buster makes the trolls feel the same way they're trying to make other people feel, he said.

Since Rosenberg and Chandra wanted to make sure the bot didn't catch any innocents by accident, they manually update a database of trolls so Imposter Buster knows who to go after. The database is crowdsourced, and includes anti-Semitic trolls, as well other kinds of racists and even leftist impersonators, such as those pretending to be Bernie Sanders supporters.

And while some trolls have tried to circumvent the bot by changing their names, there's no hiding from or blocking Imposter Buster. Even if a troll tweets something innocuous, convincing people that it's a normal account and not an impersonator, the bot still replies so that no one is fooled into thinking the Yehuda Finkelstein's of the Twittersphere are to be respected.

"One of the reasons this account [Imposter Buster] is successful is that this version of trolling is no longer worthwhile," said Rosenberg. "Now they've reverted to their anti-Semitic personas. That's a win." As their regular selves, the trolls may still be harassing people, but at least they're not deceiving anyone. Other impersonator trolls have already shut down their accounts, Rosenberg added. And Twitter has noticed what's going on, too. The very first account Imposter Buster tweeted at got suspended, he said.

In the week that Imposter Buster's publicly launched, the crowdsourced data base has expanded to include dozens of trolls, said Rosenberg. "People need to start thinking creatively about how to fight back against all sorts of bigotry on social media," he said. "Doing it in a way that's fun, that's enjoyable, that's the trick, otherwise it's debilitating and depressing."

But Imposter Buster is also designed to be entertaining. "There are ways to do this stuff that actually would empower people and make them feel deputized to fight back and not be angry or scared," Rosenberg said. "We're the majority [of anti-bigots], we can take it right back to these people."