Important to understanding the nature of contemporary media bias is the role played by online media. Right-wing extremists have become adept at blurring the lines between fact and fiction. A 2017 report by the anti-racist group Hope not Hate reveals that a global network of anti-Muslim activists is using Twitter bots, fake news and manipulation of images to influence political discourse through the coordination of the message that Islam is an “imminent threat” to Western society.
Researchers found that the impact of tweets from one controversial US activist, Pamela Geller, who is banned from the United Kingdom, is magnified by 102 bots, the robotic accounts that automatically tweet or retweet content.
Researchers also monitored a sample of popular anti-Muslim Twitter accounts in Britain and the US between March and November 2017 and found that, on average, there was a 117% growth in followers. Patrik Hermansson, a researcher for Hope not Hate, said: “The growth among Twitter accounts and websites spreading anti-Muslim hate is alarming. In such a key area of public interest, it is an indication of increased interest in these views and, as each account or site grows, more people are exposed to deeply prejudiced anti-Muslim views.”
The study also charts how terror attacks in the UK have been exploited by anti-Muslim activists over social media, with several prominent anti-Muslim Twitter accounts in the UK acquiring a significant number of followers in their aftermath.
The aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attack in June 2017 was used to illustrate how anti-Muslim activists took advantage, with 32 of the top 100 most shared tweets about the attack expressing negative sentiments about Muslims.
Although the online efforts of extremists have been recently impeded thanks to action by social networks and technology companies they are still a significant force, made more influential, unfortunately, by the election successes of populist politicians across Europe and in the US who have normalised the rhetoric of extremism and given credence to the perception of an inevitable conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims.
At the same time, Hope not Hate has also exposed the organisation, Defend Europe, a group of far-right activists who monitor and disrupt humanitarian rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
They are part of the pan-European movement known as ‘Identitarians’ that started in France in 2012 and has since spread to Germany, Italy and Austria. The movement is well-known for its provocative and controversial stunts aimed at raising funds, increasing their public profile and shifting public opinion.