If you look at social media a lot, as I do, you might be startled by how many people were... unbothered by Nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville two weeks ago. In the days after the clashes in Virginia that led to the killing of Heather Heyer and the beating of DeAndre Harris, a good number of people popped up in my social media feeds, countering that "Antifa" and Black Lives Matter activists were equally as violent as the Nazis and white supremacists who came to a "peaceful" rally armed with semi-automatic weapons.
Photo: Anthony Crider
This sudden, aggressive and unified social media response ("What about Antifa? What about BLM?") seems suspicious, like there's been some kind of unseen microphone amplifying certain far-right themes in online conversations.
Well, there has: According to Isaac Arnsdorf, writing for Pacific Standard, the same Russian bots that flooded social networks with Russian propaganda during the 2016 US election are now at work pushing far-right views on social media. Arnsdorf writes: "Hordes of automated bots generating Twitter posts and much more last week to help make right-wing conspiracy theories and rallying cries about Charlottesville go viral."
If you feel like you're seeing a term or a theme pop up in online discussions that suddenly amplifies certain "talking points", like, say, the false equivalency between Nazis and anti-fascists, check out Hamilton 68, a new dashboard that tracks Russian influence on Twitter. The dashboard, a tool created by Securing Democracy (an organisation launched by national security figures to counter Russian "mischief"), follows and analyses 600 accounts associated with Russian influence campaigns.
You can see top hashtags, trending hashtags and trending topics, as well as top domains and trending domains, on these Russia-linked influence networks. The dashboard is "designed to shed light on Russian propaganda efforts on Twitter in near-real time".
Antifa's right up there, isn't it? So the next time you feel like there's been an abrupt change of conversation in favour of some crazy right-wing talking point, check out the dashboard. And follow Securing Democracy on Twitter.