How to Spot a White Supremacist on Twitter
Sure, you could read all those individual tweeted postings to determine who’s who—except that’s too time-consuming and labor-intensive to be remotely feasible. Berger and Strathearn’s algorithm can make those determinations mathematically.
“Our starting data centered on followers of 12 American white nationalist/white supremacist “seed” accounts on Twitter. We discovered that by limiting our analysis to interactions with this set, the metrics also identified the users who were highly engaged with extremist ideology.”
Those 12 accounts had over 3,500 followers between them (who collectively generated over 340,000 different tweets), yet less than half of those followers publicly self-identified as white supremacists or white nationalists. Now suppose you’re stuck with the task of sifting through those thousands of followers and hundreds of thousands of tweets, to find which ones might be dangerous enough to warrant a closer look.
According to Berger and Strathearn:
“By measuring interactions alone—without analyzing user content related to the ideology—we narrowed the starting set down to 100 top-scoring accounts, of which 95 percent overtly self-identified as white nationalist. […] A comparison analysis run on followers of anarchist Twitter accounts suggests the methodology can be used without modification on any number of ideologies.”
The researchers identified three key terms used in their algorithms, which they listed and defined as follows:
Influence: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s ability to publicly create and distribute content that is consumed, affirmed and redistributed by other users.
Exposure: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s tendency to publicly consume, affirm and redistribute content created by other users.
Interactivity: A metric measuring a Twitter user’s combined influence and exposure based on their public activity.
For example: suppose you’re a non-racist person following ex-Klansman David Duke on Twitter, and occasionally sending him a tweet disagreeing with his views. It’s highly unlikely any of Duke’s racist followers will find your comment worth re-tweeting. But a racist Duke follower who sends tweets reinforcing his white power views probably will inspire lots of retweets and conversations in the more bigoted regions of the Twitterverse.