'Islamophobes' exploiting terrorist attacks for more Twitter followers – study

'Islamophobes' exploiting terrorist attacks for more Twitter followers – study
UK terrorist attacks have been exploited by an international network of anti-Muslim activists, a study by anti-racism group Hope not Hate has found. Prominent Islamophobic Twitter accounts used bots and fake news, and manipulated images to boost their followings.

The group noted that a sample of anti-Muslim UK and US activists, who all push the line that Islam is an “imminent threat,” saw significant growth in their social media followings over the last year. Pamela Geller, a US activist who was banned from the UK for not being “conducive to the public good," used 102 automated or semi-automated accounts to retweet her posts. The Geller Report, her blog, doubled its monthly audience to 2 million viewers between July and October this year, according to the study.

Between March and November of this year, the accounts sampled saw an average 117 percent increase in followers. The period saw five terrorist attacks in the UK, four of which were carried out by Muslims and one of which was inflicted against Muslims.

Former head of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, was one of the chief beneficiaries of the trend, gaining 40,042 followers in the days following May’s terrorist attack in Manchester. Now working for the far-right Rebel Media network, Robinson arrived in Manchester after the attack and told his YouTube followers that the city’s Muslim residents should be treated like “enemy combatants.” Robinson also gained 22,365 after the Westminster attack in late March. On November 24, Robinson was forced to delete tweets in which he suggested that a "Jihadi attack" had caused a panic in central London.

Following the London Bridge attack in June, the study notes that 32 out of the top 100 most shared tweets about the incident expressed anti-Muslim sentiments. An example cited by the study was the now notorious picture of a Muslim woman walking beside a group of people helping the victims of the attack. The picture was prominently shared by a Twitter used called @Southlonestar, who posted that the image depicted the woman’s indifference to attack. The account was presented by Twitter to the US House Intelligence Committee as an example of a fake account created within Russia to influence US and UK politics.

In a statement to the Guardian, Patrik Hermansson, 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.”