Elites and foreign actors among the alt-right: The Gab social media platform

  • Yuchen Zhou
  • Mark Dredze
  • David A. Broniatowski
  • William D. Adler Northeastern Illinois University
Keywords: Alt-right, social media, Gab, politics, topic model, network analysis.

Abstract

Content regulation and censorship of social media platforms is increasingly discussed by governments and the platforms themselves. To date, there has been little data-driven analysis of the effects of regulated content deemed inappropriate on online user behavior. We therefore compared Twitter — a popular social media platform that occasionally removes content in violation of its Terms of Service — to Gab — a platform that markets itself as completely unregulated. Launched in mid-2016, Gab is, in practice, dominated by individuals who associate with the “alt-right” political movement in the United States. Despite its billing as “The Free Speech Social Network,” Gab users display more extreme social hierarchy and elitism when compared to Twitter. Although the framing of the site welcomes all people, Gab users’ content is more homogeneous, preferentially sharing material from sites traditionally associated with the extremes of American political discourse, especially the far right. Furthermore, many of these sites are associated with state-sponsored propaganda from foreign governments. Finally, we discovered a significant presence of German language posts on Gab, with several topics focusing on German domestic politics, yet sharing significant amounts of content from U.S. and Russian sources. These results indicate possible emergent linkages between domestic politics in European and American far right political movements. Implications for regulation of social media platforms are discussed.

Author Biographies

Yuchen Zhou
Research assistant at Center for Language and Speech Processing of Johns Hopkins University
Mark Dredze
John C. Malone Associate Professor, Center for Language and Speech Processing, Department of Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University
David A. Broniatowski
Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, George Washington University
William D. Adler, Northeastern Illinois University
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Published
2019-08-31
How to Cite
Zhou, Y., Dredze, M., Broniatowski, D. A., & Adler, W. D. (2019). Elites and foreign actors among the alt-right: The Gab social media platform. First Monday, 24(9). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i9.10062