Social media has come to play an essential role in the modern far-right. It helps in bridging distances, lower the cost of participation and, as Joe Mulhall points out in his article The ‘People’ Versus in this report, influential social media figures provide direction to movements that lack formal structures and leaders. Together they provide constant reinforcement of grievances and set the agenda of what specific questions to rally around at the moment.
The #FreeTommy campaign is a clear example from the past year. The campaign spread across the world aided greatly by social media. His Facebook page has 1,080,000 followers which put him roughly on the same level as the Labour Party’s page and the campaign racked up over 1,5 million posts on Twitter, resulting in demonstrations in London and other cities with approximately 10,000 attendants and tens of thousands of pounds in support of a far-right leader.
The effect of hatred and harassment online is also an important issue that we cannot look past. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, both online and offline. Moreover, we need to ask whether the normalisation of hate against minority groups online carries over to direct consequences in the offline world in the form of a lower threshold of harassment and attacks.
The Anti Defamation League’s yearly report on extremist murders in the US showed that every perpetrator was linked to at least one right-wing extremist group, many of which mainly organise online, such as the incel and manosphere movements. The far-right terrorist who murdered 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October was also radicalised, at least in part, on the social media platform Gab.
In other words, what happens on social media does not stay on social media. Closely following what happens online helps HOPE not hate to understand the issues and trends that matter to the far-right at the moment. For that reason, we track trends and the intensity of racist movements online.
This year’s list is heavily influenced by suspensions of key figures over the last year. Alex Jones, who was the most followed far-right personality online in 2017, has now completely dropped off the list. A welcome development. However, despite increasingly harsh stances by social media platforms their suspensions are carried out inconsistently, leaving many extreme users with large followings on the platforms. Compared to last year, this years list contains more Britons than before, with five of the top 10 most followed far-right figures on social media coming from the UK.
A significant reason for their success in attracting attention is their use of social media. Based on data from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Gab HOPE not Hate has compiled a list of the top haters on social media to estimate the reach of far right accounts on these platforms.
Comparing audience size between websites and social media users does not allow us fully to measure impact. These users, websites and forums are not all equally extreme but based on data on followers of over a thousand accounts from a wide spectrum of the far right across five different social media platforms, it provides a high-level overview of the potential reach of these activists’ messages.
Most influential users
Bans of several key far-right figures affected this year’s list significantly. American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars network, as well as former Proud Boys’ leader Gavin McInnes, were suspended from almost every mainstream media platform, meaning that they do not make the list. This is a remarkable achievement, considering that Alex Jones was the most followed far-right activist world wide in 2017. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) was similarly hurt by being banned from Twitter in March, but compensated by a four-fold increase in followers on YouTube after he left Rebel Media and began producing content on his own channel.Download a PDF of the report here