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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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LISTEN: Boris Johnson has a meltdown in car crash interview on the Queen’s Speech

“Hang on a second…errr…I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Hang on a second,” Boris Johnson sighed. On air, you could hear the desperate rustling of his briefing notes (probably a crumpled Waitrose receipt with “crikey” written on it) and him burbling for an answer.

Over and over again, on issues of racism, working-class inequality, educational opportunity, mental healthcare and housing, the Foreign Secretary failed to answer questions about the content of his own government’s Queen’s Speech, and how it fails to tackle “burning injustices” (in Theresa May’s words).

With each new question, he floundered more – to the extent that BBC Radio 4 PM’s presenter Eddie Mair snapped: “It’s not a Two Ronnies sketch; you can’t answer the question before last.”

But why read your soon-to-be predecessor’s Queen’s Speech when you’re busy planning your own, eh?

Your mole isn’t particularly surprised at this poor performance. Throughout the election campaign, Tory politicians – particularly cabinet secretaries – gave interview after interview riddled with gaffes.

These performances were somewhat overlooked by a political world set on humiliating shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has been struggling with ill health. Perhaps if commentators had less of an anti-Abbott agenda – and noticed the car crash performances the Tories were repeatedly giving and getting away with it – the election result would have been less of a surprise.

I'm a mole, innit.

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