Why are there triple brackets around names on social media?

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

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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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