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Bots and fake accounts fuel Twitter attacks on Muslim candidates

29th Nov 2019
Bots and fake accounts fuel Twitter attacks on Muslim candidates

Elham Asaad Buaras

Bots and fake accounts fuelled the surge in anti-Muslim, xenophobic and life-threatening tweets aimed at American Muslim candidates, including prominent Democrat

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib received the brunt of the hate according to a study released on November 5.

The study called, ‘#Islamophobia: Stoking Fear and Prejudice in the 2018 Midterms’ analysed 113,000 twitter messages directed at Muslim candidates, found that the vitriol of the tweets far surpassed what Muslim candidates endured on the road during campaign trails.

The researchers from the Social Science Research Council studied tweets directed toward Omar, Tlaib and a third, unsuccessful Muslim candidate in the two months before last year’s November midterm election.

The threats were so predominately aimed at Omar that the report categorised more than half of all accounts that mentioned Omar as trolls because they tweeted or re-tweeted hateful Islamophobic or xenophobic content.

Professor Lawrence Pintak, Lead author of the report, said the outrage “amplified by faceless individuals and organisations” created “a sector of society that buys into this exaggeration of lies and exaggeration of hate in this online echo chamber, and it spills into the mainstream media and mainstream consciousness.”

Many of the tweets cited violate Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit violent threats and attacks based on religious affiliation, and the researchers found that a large number of the accounts they studied were eventually closed or deleted by the user, which can be a tactic to remove evidence of disinformation campaigns.

Omar’s wearing of a traditional Muslim head-covering was a particular source of anger in tweets reviewed for the study, as were unfounded claims that she sought to impose Islamic Sharia law on Americans and was complicit in the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last year. “No one that wears a #Hijab should be running for office in America.

The #Quran #Islam and our #Constitution are Not compatible in any way,” said one tweet. A set of three identical tweets said of Omar, “No way she belongs in this country. No way she should be involved in anything! Or breathing.”

Muslim women were more likely to be targeted online than men. And a relatively small number of influential accounts had the outsize reach, thanks to accounts that tended to re-tweet, quote or comment rather than write tweets themselves.

Reacting to the study Omar called for a change in culture “that doesn’t tolerate hate as a normal part of political discourse.”

“Almost 60 per cent of the accounts that mentioned me used explicit hate speech whether it was in regards to Islamophobia or anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said Omar.

She continued: “Most of those tweets were from automated accounts. In other words, the hate is being fuelled is coming from a small group of people that are acting as agitators. We get these sort of attacks that are designed to intimidate us. I was inundated with these attacks after the Christchurch massacre took place. My sister, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got this following threat: ‘Attention

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and ragheads Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. I was excited and pleased when I heard 49 Muslims were killed and many more were wounded in New Zealand. This is a great start. Let’s hope and pray that it continues here in the good old USA. The only good Muslim is a dead one.’”

Although the study covered a period before President Donald Trump tweeted (in July) that Omar, Tlaib and two other congresswomen of colour should ‘go back’ to their countries – the report found his account also played a powerful role, in part because people seeking to spread anti-Muslim sentiment would direct their messages to Trump, increasing their reach.

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