An Anonymous Developer Has Made (((Echoes))) Searchable on Twitter

Echo Location takes a neo-Nazi code that was previously unsearchable and catalogs it.

Jun 8 2016, 8:33pm

Image: Jason Koebler

Last week, reported on a secret code that neo-Nazis have been using to identify prominent Jewish writers, celebrities, politicians, businesspeople, etc. The code, which had been used for years, is called (((Echoes))), and it remained a secret from the masses for so long because the three parentheses that enclosed these people's names—e.g. (((Goldberg))) for Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg—is unsearchable on most platforms.

Many Jewish people and their allies have begun putting the parentheses around their own names as an attempt at taking (((Echoes))) back from the neo-Nazis, but the alt-right does indeed continue to use this code anyway. An anonymous developer, however, has found a way to locate, collect, and eventually catalog instances of the code in tweets.

The tool is called Echo Location, and it uses Twitter's stream API to snag "(((" tweets so that anyone can see all of them in one place. In doing so, the developer hopes that neo-Nazis can be identified and perhaps banned by Twitter or otherwise ostracized. He said that, though searching "(((" doesn't work on the normal Twitter site, it does work on the API.

"I'm trying to stay optimistic and think it'll have some impact—at the very least we may be able to help find these people who are being horrible and using this symbol that helps them hide because it's unsearchable," the developer told me. "I know people don't stop being racist because they lose a platform, but if they do, maybe it'll be harder to express those views or it'll be more troublesome to share their idiotic ideas."

Screengrab: Echo Location

The developer asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of the work: "Since I'm targeting idiotic Nazis that tend to be very harassing, I'm doing my best to protect my identity," he told me.

The irony here, of course, is that there are now so many people using (((Echoes))) in solidarity with Jewish people as opposed to using it as a means to harass them. And so many of the tweets that are being grabbed by Echo Location are from people who are explaining what ((( means or are speaking out against neo-Nazi harassment. The developer says that as ((( fades from the public consciousness, his tool may be much more useful.

"I started this Saturday and have about 3,000 tweets dating back to them—it would have been really interesting to see what was happening a month ago," he said. "I'm happy that there's not too many Nazis using it right now, but I have still seen a lot of antisemitic tweets that are kind of scary—pictures of ovens and and things like that. When I click on those tweets, those accounts are scary—people being horrible, slurs every three tweets."

The developer told me that Twitter's API makes it possible to see things like geolocation (if that option is left on), so it may be possible to eventually learn more about where these tweets are coming from—it's been speculated that some of them may be coming from Russian trolls, for instance. By making the tool open, he hopes someone will be able to analyze the data to be able to learn from this behavior.

Image: Echo Location

The developer told me that he believes ((( and other punctuation isn't normally searchable because, generally, that would complicate things like Google searches and make indexing of search results much more difficult.

"It makes a lot of sense to only keep the words. If you don't do that, things like periods at the ends of sentences can grow the search index by a lot, which is much less efficient," he said.

It's too soon to say whether Echo Location will be a useful tool or not—neo-Nazis could simply change their behavior or the symbols that they use to communicate—but the developer says he wanted to do something to at least inconvenience them.

"You kill a head of the hydra and three come back," he said. "But I like to think that every small step makes a difference."