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Why are there triple brackets around names on social media?

What started as a trolling mechanism is now a gesture of defiance. 

Within the past two days, something strange has happened to usernames on Twitter: user after user has added three sets of brackets around their name.

For most, it’s an act of defiance against an anti-Semitic Google plugin which was deleted from the Google store this month. “Coincidence Detector” would search web pages for names that it identified as Jewish and add three brackets to either side of their names.

The extension’s users would then organise online attacks against those highlighted by the plugin. Jonathan Weisman, a journalist at the New York Times, was the target of one such attack and wrote a piece about the harassment in which he said “much of it [came] from self-identified Donald J Trump supporters”.

According to the website Mic, which has run a long feature on the symbol, the brackets have been used by young right-wing activists online since around 2014, when the far-right podcast The Daily Shoah began to use an echo sound effect whenever it mentioned Jewish names.

In anti-Semitic propaganda, the idea that Jewish names “echo” through history is a common trope. The podcast’s editors told Mic that the symbol “represents the Jews’ subversion of the home [and] destruction of the family through mass-media degeneracy”.

Since then, it has been used in blogs, forums and social media to subtly highlight Jewish names, partly because its use is very difficult to pin down or track online – social media sites typically ignore punctuation in their search functions.  

Twitter would not answer Mic’s questions about why the symbol is not searchable, so the only solution for now is to report posts containing the brackets as hate speech or abuse through the site’s normal reporting mechanism.

Meanwhile, more and more users (including Jon Weisman) are self-defining on social media using the brackets, both to raise awareness of the abuse and to sap the symbol of its bigoted connotations. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.