New study shows Twitter white supremacists relatively unchecked

The study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism comes in the midst of a Twitter crackdown on accounts of Islamic militant groups such as ISIS.

Richard Drew/AP/File
This Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 file photo, shows a Twitter app on an iPhone screen in New York.

Sometimes it seems that hate speech is just a part of life on the internet. With so much media available online, there are countless sites devoted to all sorts of niche bigotry and racism.

Twitter users don't have to look far to find online hate.

A new study from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism shows that white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers on Twitter have been allowed to run basically unchecked on the popular social media site, and their Twitter following is growing. While Twitter has taken a hardline approach to Islamic extremism, the company has done less to restrict the flow of white nationalist propaganda on the site, the researchers found.

According to the study, 18 prominent white nationalist accounts have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. In 2012, the accounts were able to pool together about 3,500 followers. Today that number stands at over 25,000.

Twitter has done very little to check the tide of white supremacy on Twitter, according to Reuters. The website does have the ability to suspend accounts for violent extremist groups, but has largely focused its efforts on Islamic terrorist organizations, especially the self-described Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The website has suspended more than 360,000 accounts that show signs of sympathy with Islamic extremism since 2015.

"There is no one 'magic algorithm' for identifying terrorist content on the Internet," the website said in an update on the site's anti-terrorism efforts. "But we continue to utilize other forms of technology, like proprietary spam-fighting tools, to supplement reports from our users and help identify repeat account abuse."

The massive effort being undertaken in combating Twitter accounts associated with the Islamic State is in sharp contrast with the blind eye turned towards white extremist groups, however.

“White nationalists and Nazis outperformed ISIS in average friend and follower counts by a substantial margin," the George Washington University report said. "Nazis had a median follower count almost eight times greater than ISIS supporters, and a mean count more than 22 times greater.”

While this group of extremists outnumbers the Islamic State on Twitter considerably, "white nationalists and Nazis operate with relative impunity."

According to the study, many of the accounts examined showed support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump's Twitter page drew criticism in July for retweeting an image of Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton with a Star of David that was linked back to white supremacist forums, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.

White supremacist groups have made a major shift online in recent years. The Monitor recently reported on the so-called White Lives Matter movement, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, that has gained considerable traction online. Traditional hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan can be pursued through traditional legal action by holding the whole group responsible for the criminal actions of only a few of its members. By operating online, white supremacist groups like White Lives Matter are much more difficult to define as a cohesive group, making it harder to fight such organizations through litigation.

It is also more difficult to go after white supremacists on Twitter for other reasons. Since many white supremacist groups are based in the United States, there are difficult free speech considerations to take into account when dealing with such nebulously defined groups, which are also not always as clearly connected to real-world violence as is ISIS hate speech.

This report includes material from Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to New study shows Twitter white supremacists relatively unchecked
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2016/0901/New-study-shows-Twitter-white-supremacists-relatively-unchecked
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe