Anti-Muslim activists from across the globe are using fake news stories, Twitter bots and manipulated images to spread and amplify Islamophobic rhetoric online, according to new data.
Tweets from prominent anti-Islam figures, such as US-based Pamela Geller and the UK's Tommy Robinson, are echoed by more than 100 Twitter bots that are designed to automatically retweet the content, researchers from the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate found.
The research, which focused on popular anti-Muslim accounts from Britain and the US between March and November, found there was 117% growth in their social media followings and website visits.
“The growth among Twitter accounts and websites spreading anti-Muslim hate is alarming. In such a key area of public interest, it is an indication of increased interest in these views and, as each account or site grows, more people are exposed to deeply prejudiced anti-Muslim views,” Patrik Hermansson, researcher for Hope not Hate, said.
The study also mentions how anti-Muslim activists utilise and exploit terror attacks to gain followers.
Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the racist English Defence League, gained 40,042 followers, an increase of 17% during the hours and days following the Manchester attack - 29,396 of which came within 48 hours of the tragedy.
Similarly, after the Westminster attack, Robinson gained 22,365 new followers after launching a tirade of anti-Muslim tweets.
Meanwhile, the global network uses online forums to spread anti-Muslim messages and social media campaigns, the study said, notably an image of a Muslim woman walking past victims of the Westminster attack which made world headlines earlier this year.
The image was first shared by Twitter user @Southlonestar who claimed it revealed the Muslim woman’s indifference to the attack.
But it was later revealed the twitter account was one of 2,700 fake accounts handed over to the US House Intelligence Committee by Twitter.
Twitter alleges the account was created in Russia to influence UK and US politics.
The study also accused US-based Breitbart, run by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, of spreading fake news.
“Its reporting on Islam and Muslims is largely indistinguishable from the anti-Muslim movement’s rhetoric or even that of the far right,” the study revealed.