Rosenberg, a senior writer for Jewish-focused news-and-culture website Tablet Magazine, had become a leading target of anti-Semitic Twitter users during his reporting on the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Despite being pelted with slurs, he wasn’t overly fixated on the Nazis who had embraced the service. “For the most part I found them rather laughable and easily ignored,” he says.
But one particular type of Twitter troll did gnaw at him: the ones who posed as minorities—using stolen photos of real people—and then infiltrated high-profile conversations to spew venom. “Unsuspecting readers would see this guy who looks like an Orthodox Jew or a Muslim woman saying something basically offensive,” he explains. “So they think, Oh, Muslims are religious. Jews are religious. And they are horrifically offensive people.”
Rosenberg decided to fight back. Working with Neal Chandra, a San Francisco–based developer, he created an automated Twitter bot called Imposter Buster. Starting in December 2016, it inserted itself into the same Twitter threads as the hoax accounts and politely exposed the trolls’ masquerade (“FYI, this account is a racist impersonating a Jew to defame Jews”).
Imposter Buster soon came under attack itself—by racists who reported it to Twitter for harassment. Unexpectedly, the company sided with the trolls: It suspended the bot for spammy