Brett Favre and Soulja Boy Unwittingly Record Videos With Coded Anti-Semitism

Brett Favre, the former N.F.L. quarterback, has developed a focus on veterans in his life after football: He spoke at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games this year, and he recently teamed up with a group that trains shelter dogs and places them with veterans struggling with post-combat stress and anxiety.

So when he received a request to make a video referring to patriots, servicemen and the U.S.S. Liberty, via a platform that allows fans to request personalized videos from celebrities, he believed he was honoring a veterans organization, he said.

In fact, the request was laced with obscure anti-Semitic messages and had ties to a hate group.

Mr. Favre was among several celebrities who were recently targeted on Cameo, a platform on which fans pay celebrities for personalized video messages, often for birthdays or other special occasions. Soulja Boy Tell ’Em, the rapper, and Andy Dick, the comedian, also recorded similar messages. All said they were tricked and did not know that the request was connected to extremism.

Cameo has condemned the requests as a “blatant misuse” of its platform and a “gross misrepresentation of the talent’s political beliefs.”

The episode, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, is the latest example of how extremist groups are using technology to try to infiltrate mainstream society, at a time when a growing culture of hate is taking root — both online and off.

The Anti-Defamation League documented a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, the largest single-year increase since the organization began its annual audit in 1979. And in October, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people in what was among the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks in American history. The man, Robert Bowers, had aired his hatred on Gab, a social network that has become a haven for white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other extremists.

Cameo, which was introduced last year, connects fans with a network of more than 6,000 popular (or once popular) figures and takes a cut of each transaction. It is an easy source of income for low- to midrange celebrities, who set their own rates. And it is an easy way for fans to experience direct — and personalized — contact with their favorite V.I.P.s.

Requests for messages go directly to the celebrities, who can swipe to either accept or reject a request. If they accept it, they use a teleprompter of sorts to record a video message, the company’s chief executive, Steven Galanis, said in an interview on Sunday.

He said Cameo had facilitated more than 93,000 videos without incident before it learned last week that an account associated with the Goyim Defense League, an anti-Jewish group, had requested videos coded with anti-Semitic messages. The group then reposted Mr. Favre’s video, falsely implying that he was calling out Jewish people, Mr. Galanis said.

“Shout out to ‘Handsome Truth’ and the GDL BOYS…,” the request to Mr. Favre said. “You guys are Patriots in my eyes… keep Waking em UP! dont let the Small get you down… Keep up the Fight… and never forget the USS LIBERTY !!! and all our service men that passed away that day.”

The Goyim Defense League did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment on Sunday.

The U.S.S. Liberty was an American ship that was attacked by Israel — inadvertently, the Israelis said — in 1967. It is a source of conspiracy theories and has become a “rallying cry” among anti-Semites, according to Heidi Beirich, who monitors hate groups and extremists for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

She said the request also included other veiled references to anti-Semitic messaging: “patriots,” which refers to those who are supportive of the anti-Semitic cause, and “small,” which is a reference to a yarmulke, the traditional skullcaps worn by Jewish men.

“The person who wrote this message obviously was putting it in coded enough language so that people who were in on the joke would get it but the celebrity wouldn’t,” Ms. Beirich said.

In a Facebook post over the weekend, Mr. Favre, who charges $500 for a Cameo, said he was appalled to learn that the message had come from an anti-Semitic group and that the group had reposted his video with comments that implied he endorsed their mission.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, adding, “I am sickened by what these groups stand for and concerned about their role in fueling today’s negative political climate.”

In an email on Sunday, Soulja Boy, whose real name is DeAndre Cortez Way, said he also was not aware of the message’s meaning when he recorded the video on Cameo, where his going rate is $100.

“I was tricked,” he said. “I apologize to anyone I offended. I thought it was just a shoutout for a fan. I didn’t know it had a negative meaning behind it.”

Mr. Dick, who also charges about $100, did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. The comedian, who has had his own problems in the past — he called the radio host Howard Stern a “shallow, money-grubbing Jew” and has been accused of sexual misconduct — also distanced himself from the anti-Semitic intent of the Cameo message.

“Andy has zero sympathy for their cause, and feels used and manipulated by people who presented themselves as his fans but obviously wildly missed his intent,” a representative for Mr. Dick told BuzzFeed News.

Since learning of the anti-Semitic affiliation, Cameo banned the account that requested the videos, deactivated share links for Facebook and Twitter and asked YouTube and Instagram to delete copies of the video that had been uploaded to their sites, Mr. Galanis said. He said Cameo is also building a database of language that could be associated with hate groups and plans to flag such messages as potentially problematic.

“It really is sickening,” Mr. Galanis said. He added: “There will be bad actors. Us, as Cameo, all we can do is try to mitigate it and make sure we are getting in front of it.”

The episode has not scared away Mr. Favre, who plans to keep using the platform, a representative confirmed. But he has pledged to donate money, including his $500 Cameo fee, to charities that fight hate and bigotry.

Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

Follow Sarah Mervosh on Twitter: @smervosh

Source: Read Full Article