4chan's new racist code: How alt-right trolls are harassing Jews, Muslims and black people

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Take a moment to cherish your favorite candies and search engines — you never know when the alt-right is going to appropriate them. 

Months after the anti-Semitic (((echoes))) symbol made headlines, the modern white supremacist movement is still alive and well on Twitter. Users who want to openly discuss racist conspiracies without being flagged by Twitter's online abuse team have developed slang to fly under the politically correct radar. 

It's being called "Operation Google" — a campaign to spoil Google's new set of anti-harassment tools, called Conversation AI, which come from a subsidiary of Google called Jigsaw that works to tackle the problem of hate speech on the internet. In response, 4chan trolls are using "Google" as a slur for black people.

A full list of the slang and its targets was posted on 4chan on Sept. 21. It includes terms such as Skype, Yahoo and Skittle to mean Jew, Mexican and Muslim, respectively. 

Skittle, in this instance, refers to Donald Trump Jr.'s recent controversial tweet — a photo of a bowl of Skittles used as a metaphor for Syrian refugees. Trump Jr. posted the meme two days before the slang surfaced on 4chan.

Using words that are innocent and unassuming at face value gives internet trolls a safe cover to spout racist theories without the risk of getting their accounts shut down for violating Twitter's rules on hate speech.

When asked over email if Twitter is aware of this code (it certainly is now!) and what a user should do to flag this type of content, a Twitter spokesperson sent a link to the page describing its abusive behavior policy, along with a link to the Know Your Meme page on Operation Google.

"You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease," Twitter's policy notes. 

The alt-right has taken to using slang or code in the past to circumvent harassment policies. As Mic previously reported, white supremacists on Twitter use three parentheses around a name to identify and target Jews online. Alt-right trolls from 4chan are also responsible for turning the Pepe the Frog meme into a Nazi symbol, and the Anti-Defamation League added the meme to its online hate symbol database on Tuesday.

While Twitter already has a reputation for its poor handling of abuse, 4chan's Operation Google campaign adds another level of complexity to an already challenging task for artificial intelligence. It'll have to detect hateful intention in tweets like these, which make no sense unless you know the context.

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Melanie is a writer covering technology and the future. She can be reached at melanie@mic.com.

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