Online hate: The year in numbers

Donald Trump’s entry into the White House has helped focus media attention on the Alternative Right and the broader international far right. Seemingly emboldened by his victory, far right groups…

a number of popular far right figures including Katie Hopins

by Patrick Hermansson

Donald Trump’s entry into the White House has helped focus media attention on the Alternative Right and the broader international far right.

Seemingly emboldened by his victory, far right groups have organised rallies and campaigns across the US and Europe, events like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the “Defend Europe” mission in the Mediterranean being just two examples.

A significant reason for their success in attracting attention is their use of social media. Based on data from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, 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 does not allow us fully to measure impact but, based on data on followers of over a thousand accounts from a wide spectrum of the far right across three different social media platforms, it provides a high-level overview of the potential reach of these accounts’ messages.

In the UK, the anti-Muslim far right was quick to exploit public fear after the Islamist terror attacks during the spring and summer. A direct measure of the tactic’s effectiveness can be seen in the sharp increase in followers on Twitter for anti-Muslim activists like Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) who, after each attack, sharply increased his Twitter following, ending the year at more than double the number of followers he had in January 2017.This made him the fifth most important online hater in the world, along with the three other Britons on the list.

Not on the list, but one of the fastest climbers, is Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen. Britain First is best known for its extreme anti Muslim stance expressed via confrontational actions like street protests and mosque invasions.

In November, Fransen was retweeted three times by US President Trump, gaining her international recognition and exponentially increasing her audience on Twitter to over 16 times what she had at the beginning of the year. Fransen’s and Lennon’s rapid audience growth is an indication of the worsening attitudes towards Muslims in the UK that we highlighted in our 2017 Fear and Hope report.

The far right also met resistance in 2017. After Charlottesville, several internet companies slashed the number of far right users they serviced. This was primarily payment services such as card providers Paypal and Patreon and online advertisers, forcing far right activists to find other funding routes. For some of the most extreme sites, such as the nazi Stormfront and The Daily Stormer, this also led to suspension of their domain names and hosting.

Fransen and Britain First were among a relatively small group of accounts removed from Twitter, putting an abrupt end to Fransen’s rapid rise.

The accounts with the largest following are not the most extreme, however, and these accounts remain active on Twitter as well as Facebook and YouTube, arguably the more important platforms in terms of reach. Twitter for the far right

After Twitter took a harsher stance on far right accounts on its platform, many, including Britain First, turned to, site with almost the same functionality as Twitter that “champions free speech and individual liberty”.

The site was launched in August 2016 but was only opened to the public in May 2017. Since then it has gained more than 310,000 users, according to its founder.

Our list is ranked by the total number of followers over the three networks. There is no doubt overlap in the followers between the different networks but the sum represents a reasonable measure of reach because of the network structure of these platforms.

A post does not simply reach the followers of the original user but also the followers of those followers. Since users often have different networks on different platforms, this overlap still contributes to the reach of the accounts and should therefore be taken into consideration.

Notwithstanding that, repetition itself increases reach and the likelihood that a message gets shared. The list excludes people who hold political office as we aim to shine a light on the informal influence afforded to private individuals afforded by social media platforms.

Notably, the full list included a wide range of accounts, including established nazis as well as mainstream personalities like Katie Hopkins. But, in the top ten, we find a relatively homogenous group of alt-light and anti-Muslim activists. It excludes any of the most extreme, racially-motivated far right, the largest of whom reach only a fraction compared with the top ten.


Britain First: Blocked from Twitter, huge on Facebook

While Britain First was banned from Twitter in February 2017 and continues to draw next to no people to its demonstrations, it remains successful on Facebook. As of December 2017, it was the second most liked Facebook page in the politics and society category in the UK after the Royal Family.

In December 2017, Jayda Fransen’s page was also the second fastest growing in the UK, after the Queen. She gained 37,582 likes in December alone.

The further down the list we go, the more extreme accounts we find. The accounts at the top are clearly hate accounts because of their rhetoric about minorities and women but their distance from clear antisemitism and outright discussion of race has paid off in terms of number of followers. The millions of followers indicate that their rhetoric is more publicly palatable.

In our report on the International Alternative Right we called the alt-light “less extreme, more dangerous” because of its potential to normalise far right ideas and to act as a gateway to more extreme ideas.

The list presents that idea in more clarity. Some of these people profess deeply hateful ideas but often in a way that cannot clearly be labelled hate speech, giving them access to platforms and audiences that traditional far right activists never had. It is symbiotic relationship whereby the existence of a racially motivated far right helps individuals like Katie Hopkins to establish themselves as the centre ground.

Stormfront Britain

Stormfront had its domain seized after in August 2017, in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, USA.

However, it remains active and accessible, is the second largest section after “Newslinks & Articles” with 111,746 threads as of December 2017 and is the by far largest regional section of the forum.

Similar Web estimated Stormfront’s visitor numbers at about 1 million per month before their domain was terminated. 11% or 110,000 visitors are estimated to come from the UK.



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