White nationalists and self-identified Nazi sympathizers located mostly in the United States use Twitter with “relative impunity” and often have far more followers than militant Islamists, a study being released on Thursday found.
Eighteen prominent white nationalist accounts examined in the study, including the American Nazi Party, have seen a sharp increase in Twitter followers to a total of more than 25,000, up from about 3,500 in 2012, according to the study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism that was seen by Reuters.
“White nationalists and Nazis outperformed ISIS in average friend and follower counts by a substantial margin,” the report said. “Nazis had a median follower count almost eight times greater than ISIS supporters, and a mean count more than 22 times greater.”
While Twitter has waged an aggressive campaign to suspend Islamic State users–the company said in an August blog post it had shut down 360,000 accounts for threatening or promoting what it defined as terrorist acts since the middle of 2015–Berger said in his report that “white nationalists and Nazis operate with relative impunity.”
Asked about the study, a Twitter spokesman referred to the company’s terms of service, which prohibit promoting terrorism, threatening abuse and “hateful conduct” such as attacking or threatening a person on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Berger said in an interview that Twitter and other companies such as Facebook Inc faced added difficulties in enforcing standards against white nationalist groups because they are less cohesive than Islamic State networks and present greater free speech complications.
The data collected, which included analysis of tweets of selected accounts and their followers, represents a fraction of the white nationalist presence on Twitter and was insufficient to estimate the overall online size of the groups, the report said.