How do hate groups persist on social media platforms? Researchers shed some light.

A new study published on 21 August in Nature attempts to answer the baffling question of how online hate groups manage to thrive on social media platforms.

European Scientist
August 23, 2019

Social media have enabled a world of interconnectedness. But with this comes opportunities for less virtuous organisations to spread their messages. And also creates a world-wide platform for recruiters seeking impressionable minds to join their cause.

Just some of the adverse events linked to online hate and extremist narratives include a recent surge in hate crimes, an alarming increase in teen suicide rates, as well as inciting mass shootings, stabbings, and bombings. Indeed, social media outlets open the door for global recruitment by extremist groups.

Understanding hate-community dynamics could be the key to effectively reducing such behaviours. So, in a compelling study, the researchers looked at the dynamics of online hate communities on multiple social media platforms.

The team of researchers from George Washington University and the University of Miami used mathematical modelling to examine these so-called hate clusters — online pages or groups of individuals with similar views, interests, or purposes — on two popular social media platforms, Facebook and VKontakte (a Russian online social media platform), over several months.

Each cluster contains links to other communities or clusters that users can join. Therefore, the authors were able to track how and when members of one cluster also joined other clusters. And found that hate group clusters are highly resilient.

In particular, they discovered that when hate groups are “attacked” — for example, a site being removed by a platform administrator — the clusters quickly repair themselves and the network rapidly rewires itself.

This rewiring is mainly facilitated by the strong bonds created between users mutual users of multiple clusters, which the authors suggest is analogous to a strong covalent bond in chemistry. Sometimes, two or more small clusters may even merge into a larger cluster.

Read more in the European Scientist