The ‘eight faces’ of anti-Muslim trolls on Twitter

A criminology lecturer has published a report dissecting online Islamophobia, identifying what he believes are the eight types of troll responsible for much of the hate speech.

Imran Awan, a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University, was fairly new to Twitter when he began examining the 140-character dialogues unfolding from January 2013 to April 2014. But the dates were key. Awan wanted to know whether the brutal murder of Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby on 22 May, 2013 affected the level of hate speech online.

“As somebody who had joined Twitter myself, I was shocked at the level of abuse I was getting,” Awan told “I write for the Huffington Post and the Guardian, and I get a lot of strong comments and harassment. I researched and talked a lot about Islamophobia, but it seemed nobody had tested it in the online world.”

Awan’s report, published in Policy & Internet, is an appraisal of the state of affairs and a call to action, and one that brings to the fore for the first time the behaviours of some of the main perpetrators online. But as noted in his paper, there has already been some data gathering, particularly by Tell Mama (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks).

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The organisation is a platform that allows anyone who has experienced or witnessed anti-Muslim abuse in England to report it securely and anonymously. It means that Tell Mama can build up an aggregate picture of abuse suffered by Muslims across England, with details and locations recorded.
[blah blah blah]

The eight faces:

  • The Trawler: targets anyone with a Muslim connection
  • The Apprentice: new to Twitter, they target people with the help of more experienced online abusers
  • The Disseminator: tweets and retweets messages, pictures, and documents of online anti-Muslim hate
  • The Impersonator: users with fake profiles they use to target individuals
  • The Accessory: joins in other conversations to target vulnerable figures
  • The Reactive: following a major incident, such as Woolwich, begins a campaign against an individual or group
  • The Mover: changes their Twitter account irregular to target individuals
  • The Professional: has a huge following (and multiple accounts) and launches a major campaign of hate against an individual or group (Awan says Tommy Robinson, the cofounder of the English Defence League, was one such individual)

[more rambling…  Final sentence:]

It is important to note, however, that this paper is based on a very small test sample. Furthermore, HateBot, a computer program that has been scouring Twitter for hate speech, found that the most prevalent terms did not relate to the Muslim community. Instead, the terms “gypo” and “pikey” account for 15 percent. In fact no anti-Muslim hate speech made it into the top ten words.

Note: no examples given.