On Twitter, Nazis have a follower count greater than ISIS

Published: September 6, 2016
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People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

Regardless of how much the Muslim community screams blue murder that Islam is not the sole proprietor of religious extremism and terrorism, it takes the research of a non-Muslim terrorism analyst to convince the world.

The latest study by J M Berger of George Washington University reveals that the singularly focused spotlight of social media sites upon Islamic extremist groups has only allowed thousands of white nationalist and pro-Nazi groups to mushroom unchecked right beneath their noses. Where sites like Twitter and Facebook continue to act with supreme diligence in sweeping their platforms clean of Islamic extremist elements, they remain dreadfully perfunctory against other extremist groups thriving through their portals.

In the US alone, an extremely nationalist, fundamentalist, and bigoted mind-set blossoms on the wings provided by social media sites. These sentiments are further fanned by Donald Trump’s continually negative rhetoric, itself a principal cause of rearing nationalist heads within both the US borders and beyond. According to Berger’s report ‘white nationalists and Nazis outperform ISIS in average friend and follower counts by a substantial margin.’ The report also finds that the median follower count of Nazis was ‘almost eight times greater than ISIS supporters and a mean count more than 22 times greater.’

Interestingly, although extremist groups like white nationalists and Nazi supporters have been around far longer than ISIS, they have never been taken seriously. This is despite the fact that 80% of terrorist activity on US soil since September 2001 has been perpetrated by non-Islamic individuals. In a classic representation of giving the dog a bad name and hanging it, Islamic extremism is automatically assumed to be the only adverse activity occurring via Tweets and Facebook pages. At the moment, there are more tweets posted by white nationalists than ISIS on Twitter, which is hardly surprising since contrary to the 360,000 suspected Islamic extremist accounts shut down by the site by 2015, only a handful are those associated with non-Islamic terrorism.

As a result of Twitter’s sole emphasis upon expunging its site of ISIS presence, the birth and growth of other similar groups has been completely overlooked. Consequently, the population of white nationalist movements around the world has ballooned 600% since 2012; from slightly more than 3,500 accounts to well over 25,000, and counting. Interesting, despite identification, minimal efforts have been taken to curb this growth; of the 4,000 groups Berger identified on Twitter as being white nationalist in nature, only 288 were suspended. This is despite more frequent use of Twitter by Nazi and nationalist groups in spreading their message as compared to ISIS.

One reason that hate groups with ideologies just as vehement and negative as the ISIS continue to slip between the cracks is their being unanchored to a singularly identifiable mother group. While their hate messages match in intensity, it is because they emanate under different banners that they remain shrouded in a fog, as opposed to the ISIS.

Another reason is that since Islam has been tainted with such diligence over the years as the perpetrator of all evil, the rest of the evil around the world conveniently fades into the background.

No doubt, other hate groups have learnt well from the ISIS in how to best resonate their message far and wide. But then the ease provided by Twitter and Facebook of typing a few words and flinging them outward to billions of readers within seconds is also to blame. In the words of Berger, ‘…social media offers structural advantages for extremists.’ Needless to say, not only do the majority of these accounts originate from the US, three of the top ten hash tags revere Trump. Although Berger does not think that the maturation of nationalist presence on social media sites is solely because of Trump, he has nonetheless been a dynamic force behind their renewed enthusiasm.

Despite evidence of prejudicial and white supremacist hate groups on social media sites, their eradication is staggeringly more difficult than ridding rid of Islamic terrorist groups. This is because where latter groups openly violate user policies of the sites they use, are primarily located in clearly discernible geographical areas, propagate their message in more or less similar rhetoric, and operate under one major jihadi banner. The former are so ingrained within societies, mainly the political sectors, around the world, and are not associated with a formally designated ideology besides ‘hate’ or ‘prejudice’ that they easily filter through the cracks. Hence they have grown in leaps and bounds facing only superficial resistance in the name of control. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the number of hate groups within 2014-15 increased to 14%.

The engrossment of social media sites with completely wiping out even the slightly suspected Islamic terrorist groups from their portals with the aim to make them appear ‘safer’ to the world has been nothing short of a huge welcome message to countless other extremist groups including white or black nationalists, anarchists, Nazi supporters, non-Muslim religious extremists, and jihadists other than ISIS. The fact that much of the terrorism instigated on US soil alone, 80% of all terrorist activity to be exact, is by non-Muslim actors, lends strong credibility to Berger’s report.

In the wake of this report, those concerned can only hope that all social media sites will revamp their content removal policies and jack up efforts to ensure that the portals really are as ‘safe’ as they propagate themselves to be. But then that would require an open admission that there really are other major threats to societies other than Islamic extremists and Muslims. And this would be like asking the West to eat crow. Also, considering the fact that most of the hate, supremacist, and bigoted mind-sets in the western arena have a strong footing in politics, it may be a long time in waiting before any such steps by any social media site are actually taken.

aalia.suleman

Aalia Suleman

A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (twitter.com/aaliasuleman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • numbersnumbers

    Why start counting deaths by terrorism AFTER 9/11???
    Let’s look at Global major terrorist attacks:
    9/11, Spanish Train bombings, London Tube/bus bombings, Mumbai 26/11, Paris multiple attacks, Moscow theatre attack, etc etc!
    ALL BY MUSLIMS!Recommend