November 16, 2018

Bots, Fake News and the Anti-Muslim Message on social Media

By Patrik Hermansson

HOPE not hate scrutinized Islamophobic movements and anti-Muslim hatred on social media in the fall of 2017, however in the time since then a series of developments regarding disinformation and hate speech on social media platforms means the topic of online Islamophobia calls for a revisit.

Additional scrutiny was further motivated when the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election resulted in concrete evidence of an influence operation, an election marked by islamophobic rhetoric. In this report, we show that Islamophobic rhetoric constituted a meaningful part of the content produced by the fake Twitter accounts confirmed to be part of the influence campaign.

Key findings

  • Islamophobic rhetoric constituted a meaningful part of the content produced by the fake Twitter accounts confirmed to be part of the influence campaign orchestrated by the Kremlin-associated Internet Research Agency, during the 2016 election and the first year of President Trump’s term.
  • Using a dataset of tweets produced by the Twitter accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency we show that Islamophobic messages performed more than twice as well as the average tweet produced by the fake accounts.
  • Monitoring key Islamophobic social media accounts and their networks, we demonstrate how even small events are amplified through an international network of activists.
  • We also provide concrete evidence of a leading anti-Muslim activist whose message was amplified by the use of a 100+ strong ‘bot army’.
  • The low price of fake accounts combined with the global reach of, and lack of regulation on, social media platforms presents new possibilities for independent, single issue and extremist viewpoints to gain significant audiences.
  • We show how the series of terror attacks in the UK during 2017 was successfully exploited by anti-Muslim activists on social media, to increase their reach and grow their audiences.
  • We delve into the murky and secretive world of the dark web to explore the tools that are available for manipulating social media and show how easy it is to make use of these tactics even for non-tech savvy users.
  • Through testing, we conclude that even cheaply inflating one’s number of followers through purchasing them affects the ability to reach a larger audience.
  • We situate these developments in the context of increasing hostility towards Muslims and immigration in the Europe and the US. 1, 2
  • “Trigger events” such as terror attacks, and other events that reflect badly on Muslims and Islam, cause both an increase in anti-Muslim hate on the street3 and, as we will show, also online.