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White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis Outnumber ISIS Sympathizers on Social Media, Study Says

Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, July 18, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane

Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, July 18, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane

A recent study on U.S. extremism released Thursday revealed that the social media presence of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis is growing at an exponential rate.

According to an analysis conducted by researchers at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, the white nationalist movement on Twitter increased by a whopping 600 percent, surpassing that of ISIS sympathizers.

The study, titled “Nazi vs. ISIS on Twitter: A Comparative Study of White Nationalist and ISIS Online Social Media Networks,” sought to examine and compare Twitter use among white nationalists, Nazi sympathizers and ISIS supporters. Researchers took it a step further by comparing and contrasting how each group utilized the popular social media platform to grow its movement.

Among the study’s key findings were that American white nationalist movements on Twitter added about 22,000 followers since 2012, bolstering the group’s social media presence by 600 percent. According to the study, white nationalists now outperform ISIS sympathizers in every social metric, from follower totals to tweets per day.

Study author J.M. Berger attributes this exponential rise to the adoption of social media by individuals interested in white nationalism, organized social media activism and “the rise of organized trolling communities seeking to flood social media platforms with negative content, regardless of participants’ actual beliefs.”

The study also revealed an overwhelming amount of white nationalist support for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. According to the report, Trump-related hashtags dominated the white nationalist and Neo-Nazi Twitterspheres. For instance, explicit hashtags backing the GOP candidate like #Trump2016 and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain came in as the second and third most used hashtags among the white nationalist data set.

Hashtag #WhiteGenocide, the belief that the “white race” is directly threatened by the increased diversification of society, took the top spot as the most used hashtag among white nationalists. Per the analysis, social media activists repeatedly tweeted these hashtags and similar tropes hundreds of times a day.

“New developments and new propaganda items are a constant part of the ISIS landscape, whereas content in white nationalist networks tends to be repetitive, with few meaningful changes to the movement’s message, landscape, or political prospects,” Berger wrote in the analysis.

“A notable exception to this is Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, which has energized white nationalists and provided new talking points and opportunities for engagement,” he added. “Trump’s candidacy is likely driving some portion of movement’s recent gains on Twitter.”

The group’s steady increase could also be attributed to the impunity white nationalists enjoy compared to ISIS sympathizers. Essentially, white nationalists aren’t punished as often or as harshly as ISIS supporters for their hate-filled, terroristic tweets.

“Given the outsize impact of ISIS, the number of adherents it claims, and its organized approach to social media, this disparity is almost certainly driven by an aggressive campaign of account suspensions targeting ISIS users on Twitter, driven at least in significant part by user reporting,” the report states. “In contrast, white nationalists and Nazis operate with relative impunity.”

In an effort to crack down on terror organizations like ISIS and other extremist groups, Twitter announced the suspension of roughly 360,000 accounts associated with violent threats and terrorism promotion in August. A news release from the social media giant stated that the site’s suspensions have increased over 80 percent since last year, with spikes in account shutdowns immediately following terror attacks.

“Our response time for suspending reported accounts, the amount of time these accounts are on Twitter, and the number of followers they accumulate have all decreased dramatically,” it read. “We have also made progress in disrupting the ability of those suspended to immediately return to the platform.”

There’s no word on the social media site’s efforts to specifically thwart threats of violence or terrorism made by white nationalist groups.


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