Here’s How Far-Right Extremists Recruit on Twitter
The researchers also discovered some peculiar data about how extremists on both the far right and left use Twitter and how online extremist networks are organized. In a new report, terrorism analyst J.M. Berger his co-author Bill Strathearn found that traditional leaders on the far right are losing influence to new forms of extremist media, spread online by a small group of influential activists who are relative unknowns, but can communicate to a much larger audience of potential recruits. These activists are even attempting to make inroads into mainstream politics.
The team began by collecting 12 Twitter accounts owned by prominent self-identified white supremacists with a combined total of 3,542 Twitter followers. These accounts were for groups and individuals such as the white supremacist ideologue David Duke, various Ku Klux Klan factions, and neo-Nazi clubs like the Aryan Nations, American Nazi Party and the American Freedom Party. Next, the team narrowed in on the followers, of which 44 percent espoused what the team considered explicitly white supremacist views.
The team looked at which of those followers were interacting with others the most and who had the most influence (meaning their tweets were retweeted by others the most). And finally, which websites were they linking to? And which hashtags were most popular?
The team concluded: The most influential ideologues were highly influential among the group, and most were dabblers in a kind of 90-9-1 rule for internet skinheads: 90 percent are lurkers and rarely contribute, 9 percent contribute some of the time, and 1 percent do most of the talking and effectively control the conversation. A full list of the most influential are included in the authors’ report (.pdf), published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, a London think tank.
It might sound obvious, but that’s good news. “In short, the vast majority of people taking part in extremist talk online are unimportant,” the authors write in the report. “They are casually involved, dabbling in extremism, and their rhetoric has a relatively minimal relationship to the spread of pernicious ideologies and their eventual metastasization into real-world violence.”
The most prominent white supremacist leaders also suck at promoting themselves. Instead, their followers preferred to link to other websites like WhiteResister, Infowars and the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. This suggests the old guard of American organized racism is “not generating daily buzz, on Twitter at least,” and that “these well-known leaders of white nationalism in the United States may be losing touch with their constituents.”