The number of white nationalists and self-identified Nazi sympathisers on Twitter have multiplied more than 600 per cent in the last four years, outperforming the so-called Islamic State (Isis) in everything from follower counts to number of daily tweets, a new study found.
Researchers at George Washington University’s Programme on Extremism analysed 18 accounts belonging to major white nationalist groups and organisations – such as the American Nazi Party and the National Socialist Movement – mostly located in the US.
These accounts saw a sharp increase in followers, from about 3,500 in 2012 to 22,000 in 2016. The study notes that while Isis stood out for its outreach and recruitment using Twitter since the group’s emergence a few years ago, white nationalist groups have excelled in the medium.
The report underscores the declining influence of Isis on the social media platform as Twitter continues to crackdown on the Islamist militant group. In August, the company said that it shut down roughly 360,000 accounts for what they saw as promoting terrorism.
Yet, the GWU study said that white nationalists are using the site with “relative impunity”.
“On Twitter, Isis’ preferred social platform, American white nationalist movements have seen their followers grow by more than 600 per cent since 2012,” the study, authored by JM Berger, stated. “Today, they outperform Isis in nearly every social metric, from follower counts to tweets per day.”
When questioned about the report, a representative for Twitter referred Reuters to their terms of service that prohibit “hateful conduct”.
Donald Trump is a prominent subject among white nationalists on Twitter. According to the study, white nationalist users are “heavily invested” in the Republican’s candidacy. Tweets mentioned Mr Trump more than other popular topics among the groups.
Republican candidate has emerged as a favourite of white supremacist leaders, such as former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, due in part to his hard-line stance against immigration from Mexico and his proposals to prohibit immigration of Muslims from countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
Mr Trump has been publicly rebuked by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for “taking hate groups mainstream”.
But mentions of Mr Trump and the use of Trump-related hashtags were second only talk of the “white genocide” – the belief that the influx of non-white cultures and increasing diversity in the US are fuelling the extinction of the “white race”.
“Social media activists tweeted hundreds of times per day using repetitive hashtags and slogans associated with this trope,” the study said.
Another finding indicated that racist violence connected to the white nationalist movement – such as Dylann Roof, who shot and killed nine black people inside the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina – has “increasingly been tied to online activity”.
Despite links to violence, however, it remains challenging for Twitter to curtail the use of its platform by white nationalist users because their communities are “less cohesive than Isis networks” and present more complications regarding freedom of speech.
As public scrutiny on the pervasiveness of white supremacy in social media increases, critics call on Twitter to do more to curb racist abuse on the site – yet it continues to thrive.
In July, following the release of the Ghostbusters reboot, a star of the film, Leslie Jones, became the victim of vicious racist attacks on the site. She quickly condemned Twitter for the lack of response to the harassment.
“Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it,” she tweeted, calling for guidelines to stop the spread of hate speech on the platform.