White nationalists use Twitter with
'relative impunity': report
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[September 01, 2016]
By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White nationalists
and self-identified Nazi sympathizers located mostly in the United
States use Twitter with “relative impunity” and often have far more
followers than militant Islamists, a study being released on Thursday
Eighteen prominent white nationalist accounts examined in the study,
including the American Nazi Party, have seen a sharp increase in Twitter
followers to a total of more than 25,000, up from about 3,500 in 2012,
according to the study by George Washington University’s Program on
Extremism that was seen by Reuters.
The study's findings contrast with declining influence on Twitter Inc's
<TWTR.N> service for Islamic State, also known as ISIS, amid crackdowns
that have targeted the militant group, according to earlier research by
report author J.M. Berger and the findings of other counter-extremism
experts and government officials.
“White nationalists and Nazis outperformed ISIS in average friend and
follower counts by a substantial margin," the report said. "Nazis had a
median follower count almost eight times greater than ISIS supporters,
and a mean count more than 22 times greater.”
While Twitter has waged an aggressive campaign to suspend Islamic State
users - the company said in an August blog post it had shut down 360,000
accounts for threatening or promoting what it defined as terrorist acts
since the middle of 2015 - Berger said in his report that "white
nationalists and Nazis operate with relative impunity."
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment in advance of the release of the
study. Reuters was unable to independently verify its findings.
The report comes as Twitter faces scrutiny of its content removal
policies. It has long been under pressure to crack down on Islamist
fighters and their supporters, and the problem of harassment gained
renewed attention in July after actress Leslie Jones briefly quit
Twitter in the face of abusive comments.
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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. REUTERS/Kacper
Berger said in an interview that Twitter and other companies such as
Facebook Inc <FB.O> faced added difficulties in enforcing standards
against white nationalist groups because they are less cohesive than
Islamic State networks and present greater free speech complications.
The data collected, which included analysis of tweets of selected
accounts and their followers, represents a fraction of the white
nationalist presence on Twitter and was insufficient to estimate the
overall online size of the groups, the report said.
Accounts examined in the study possessed a strong affinity for U.S.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a prolific Twitter
user who has been accused of retweeting accounts associated with
white nationalism dozens of times.
Three of the top 10 hashtags used most frequently by the data set of
users studied were related to Trump, according to the report,
entitled "Nazis vs. ISIS on Twitter." Only #whitegenocide was more
popular than Trump-related hashtags, the report said.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Weber, Peter Cooney
and Bill Rigby)
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