A disturbing new report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation reveals some of the clandestine tactics used by white nationalists on Twitter — and shows that they’re “highly engaged” with the GOP and right wing media.
This comes as no surprise; since the election of Barack Obama the long-suppressed racism of the far right has burst back to the surface of the conservative movement in a huge way.
The report — titled “Who Matters Online: Measuring influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks” — originally sought to examine the way that extremists use social media to interact among themselves, in this instance focusing on white nationalists’ use of Twitter. But throughout their investigation, the study’s authors, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation associate fellow J.M. Berger and Bill Strathearn, inadvertently discovered something interesting.
They began with 12 “seed” Twitter accounts for their unambiguous status as white nationalists. The authors then created a dataset of 3,542 Twitter users who interacted with those 12 seed accounts, of which 44 percent self-identified as white nationalists. After analyzing the interactions between the 3,542 users and the 12 seed accounts, the authors identified the 200 top-scoring accounts, of which 83 percent self-identified as white nationalists (for the top 400, the self-ID rate was 74 percent).
The real surprise came almost accidentally, when studying the content of the tweets members of the dataset sent out, with a substantial amount of it linked to the conservative movement in the United States and the Republican Party. Among the most popular hashtags used by those included in the dataset included “#tcot,” or top conservatives on Twitter; “#teaparty,” and “#gop.” The study also looked at the links these users sent out, categorized into mainstream, content-neutral, alternative, and extremist categories. More than half of the alternative links these users sent out were also to conservative websites, such as World Net Daily and Breitbart.com.
The authors of the study determined that the usage seemed to be “driven more by white nationalists feeling an affinity for conservatism than by conservatives feeling an affinity for white nationalism.” They were also quick to note that the data were pulled during a period of time surrounding the Republican National Convention, potentially providing a boost in references to the GOP. However, a comparison group — composed of left-wing anarchists — did not yield similar results linking them to progressive ideals or the Democratic Party.