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Trolls threaten laid off reporters in coordinated online campaign

They even targeted PayPal.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Unfortunately, sustained online harassment campaigns are still a reality. NBC News has learned that trolls have launched a coordinated threat campaign against BuzzFeed and Huffington Post (owned by Engadget parent Verizon) journalists recently let go as part of layoffs. They appear to have originated from 4chan and used the same far-right memes before launching into racist and sexist slurs as well as death threats. The attackers have largely targeted writers on social networks like Twitter and Instagram, although they've also used email and even PayPal.

It wasn't hard to trace the origins, according to one target, HuffPo freelancer Talia Lavin. She noted that there were numerous 4chan threads where users bragged about using "sock puppet" accounts (that is, disposable) to conduct the campaign.

In a statement, Twitter said it was "disheartened" about the layoffs and was taking steps to prevent coordinated harassment "making the situation worse." Some of the harassing tweets stayed up for hours, though, illustrating both the problems and challenges of implementing anti-hate and anti-harassment policies. It can be difficult to automatically block these campaigns, especially if they couch threats in harder-to-scan photos, but there are also limits to what the targets can do in response -- it's not realistic to make users file reports against every single harasser. It may be a long time before Twitter and others can swiftly crack down on these actions without creating unintended side-effects.

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