It must be terrible to be in the GOP. Every morning you wake up to bad news. Today’s godawful report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation shows that white nationalists and other right-wing extremists are “highly engaged” with the GOP and right-wing media on social networks like Twitter.
The report, titled “Who Matters Online: Measuring Influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks” set out to study how extremists use social media to interact amongst themselves on Twitter, but apparently uncovered something quite a bit more disturbing.
They started off with 12 “seed” Twitter accounts. These accounts were set up to be pretty straightforward in their appeal to white nationalists. They then created a dataset of 3,452 Twitter users who interacted with those accounts, 44 percent of whom identify openly as white nationalists. The analyzed the interactions between those users and the seed accounts, and identified 200 top-scoring accounts, of which 83 percent self-identified as white nationalists.
When studying their tweets, they found that a lot of them linked to the GOP and other Republican interests and movements. Top hashtags used by those accounts were #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter), #teaparty, and #gop. Links sent out by these users went to conservative websites like World Net Daily and Breitbart.com.
The authors concluded that such usage was “driven more by white nationalists feeling an affinity for conservatism than by conservatives feeling an affinity for white nationalism.”
The data was pulled during the Republican National Convention, which the authors explained could account for the rise in references to the GOP and other hashtags. Still, a comparison study of “left-wing anarchists” didn’t show similar results (for instance, linking to radical progressive ideals or the Democratic Party).
So, tl;dr, what does it all mean? It seems to show, at least through what can be measured on Twitter, that right-wing extremists (and we’re not talking about gun enthusiasts or small government advocates, we’re talking full-on white nationalist racists) are a fan of the GOP and right-wing media, even if the GOP and right-wing media aren’t fans of white nationalism.
There are some assumptions in the report that you could categorically reject. For the comparison study, it’s hard to determine what constitutes “left-wing extremism,” or at least what the authors consider left-wing extremism to be. That could be entirely based on the authors’ own prejudices (though the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, as a think tank, seems to be nonpartisan).
Additionally, we are talking about just 200 really really racist Twitter users who are highly engaged with the GOP and right wing media. The study doesn’t speak to any sort of reciprocal relationship.
Still, the implications are too much to ignore. It’s unrealistic to brand all Republicans racists or white nationalists, but right wing media and indeed, the GOP itself, need to watch their base and their demographic. If they really aren’t so bad (even if they are a little lost right now) then they really need to hunt down the extremists in their party and publicly condemn them.
The left seems so on top of things right now is not just because they have an appealing and substantive platform. It’s also because they’re really good at shutting up their nut-jobs or cutting them off entirely.
You can read the entire report on white nationalists, right-wing extremists, and Twitter here.
[Image via: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons]