Haters Gonna Hate?: An exploration of the factors driving a right-wing extremist social network

Phil Murphy, Brendan Knapp, Kris McGuffie, Alex Newhouse

Contact: pjmurphy@middlebury.edu

Why all the hate? The past few years have exhibited a noted increase in the visibility of fringe hate groups across the world. To understand why hate groups are proliferating, this study explores how they reach out, who they seek, and what draws them together. Social media has provided a unique opportunity for the proliferation and expansion of such groups, allowing them to scale up recruitment efforts while increasing the security and privacy of their internal communications. Iron March, as one of the highest-profile and most-sophisticated social platforms dedicated to the far right, provided a low barrier to entry for newly radicalized recruits to meet and connect with like-minded individuals. As a result, Iron March also helped produce some of the most notorious extremist cells of the twenty-first century, including the Atomwaffen Division and the Traditionalist Worker Party. The Iron March online forum included some of the more violent extremists and was online for roughly six years before being taken down. The database, therefore, allows us the opportunity to model the behavior of the forum’s 763 original members and other users to follow the growth of a hate chat group over time. We take a longitudinal approach to modeling growth in the group over five time points, covering six years of data, ending in 2017. Ties between nodes are based on interaction, as defined by post responses and messaging. The strategy that the network exhibits, if such can be said for this group, is assessed using external attributes present in the database (e.g., location, age, gender) and other attributes that have since come to light through analysis by outside groups (e.g., military status). To assess the drivers of internal ties, we also include variables to indicate members’ identity (i.e., self-reported ideology) and discourse in the group. Discourse is captured using natural language processing to provide insight into the content of the >150,000 posts. Past research has shown that extremist groups largely recruit younger, alienated individuals who are seeking a network of support and common ground that they could not find elsewhere. These groups can often become close-knit and exclusive, developing a strong identity with markers of in-group status and reputation that allow members to demonstrate their commitment. We test these theories, provide our insights that are gained through these analyses, and suggest directions for future research.

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