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Twitterbots and fake news: how anti-Muslims are spreading their propaganda

28th Dec 2017
Twitterbots and fake news: how anti-Muslims are spreading their propaganda

Nadine Osman

Anti-Muslim activists are successfully spreading misinformation online at an alarming rate using ‘Twitterbots’, fabricated news and image manipulation, according to a new report.

Bots, fake news and the anti-Muslim message on social media’ illustrate how recent terror attacks in the UK have been exploited by anti-Muslim activists on social media to broaden their propaganda.

The research by HOPE not hate was released on November 29, the same day the US President Donald Trump caused an international outcry after retweeting a series of anti-Muslim tweets by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain’s far-right group Britain First tweet.

Among his retweets was on which contained a video of a man violently assaulting another man on crutches, the tweet is captioned ‘VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!’. Hours later both Dutch police and the Netherlands embassy in Washington confirmed the assailant was neither Muslim nor an immigrant.

Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, Daniel Dale, illustrated six other times Trump tweeted fake Muslim news including a story about Muslims not reporting San Bernardino killers; Pershing massacre with bullets dipped in pig blood; refugees being ISIS members, a non-existent terror attack in Sweden, a botched Manila robbery being a terror attack and the story of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 terror attacks.

HOPE not hate research found that tweets by America’s most prominent anti-Muslim figure, Pamela Geller, are spread by 102 ‘bots’. Geller, who is banned from entering the UK, doubled viewers to her blog to 2 million views per month between July and October.

Key anti-Muslim social media accounts monitored in the report grew by whopping 117 percent between March and November.

The report shows how even small events are amplified through a global network of anti-Muslim activists, to advance the message that Islam is a threat.

HOPE not hate researcher Patrik Hermansson said online anti-Muslim activism is spreading at an alarming rate. “In such a key area of public interest, it is an indication of increased interest in these views and, as each account or site grows, more people are exposed to deeply prejudiced anti-Muslim views.”

“The global reach, low price and lack of regulation on these platforms clearly present new possibilities for independent, single issue and extremist viewpoints to gain significant audiences. It is about time that social media companies woke up to this fact and did more about the spread of fake news.”

The research charts how terror attacks in the UK have been exploited by anti-Muslim activists over social media.

In its report HOPE not hate said, “After the Manchester arena attack, Tommy Robinson, former leader of EDL, gained 40,042 followers, an increase of 17 percent, with the majority – 29,396 – coming within 48 hours of the attack. He gained a further 22,365 followers after the Westminster attack, with a weekly average increase of 6,422 followers from March to November 2017.”

Thirty-two of the top 100 most shared tweets about the London Bridge attack in June expressed negative sentiments about Muslims.

The report also identifies far-right alternative media site, Breitbart, run by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, as spreading fake news, stating that “it’s reporting on Islam and Muslims is largely indistinguishable from the anti-Muslim movement’s rhetoric or even that of the far right”.

The study highlights that a network of online forums and image boards serves as an echo chamber to amplify and spread fabricated anti-Muslim social media campaigns. The most notorious recent example was the exploitation of a photograph of a Muslim woman walking past a group of people helping a victim of the Westminster attack in March 2017.

The image gained traction after a Twitter user called @Southlonestar claimed the image revealed the woman’s indifference to the victim (which was untrue). The image was manipulated by users on the image board, 4chan, and later superimposed on pictures after the Manchester attack.

@Southlonestar was revealed to be one of 2,700 accounts handed over to the US House Intelligence Committee by Twitter as a fake account created in Russia to influence UK and US politics.

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