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Hashtags showing anti-immigrant sentiment likely artificially manipulated - research finds

FILE PHOTO: The new logo of Twitter is seen in this illustration taken, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The new logo of Twitter is seen in this illustration taken, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Published Sep 5, 2023


Johannesburg - In a new report, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) found that the online conversations using the hashtags #Xenophobia, #PatrioticSpace, #VoetsekANC, and #PutSouthAfricaFirst were likely artificially manipulated.

The Centre said it used a tool called Nimmo’s Coefficient of Traffic Manipulation (CTM) to calculate the likelihood of a conversation being manipulated on X (previouslyTwitter) between January 1 and June 30 this year. CTM identifies how much X traffic has been subjected to deliberate manipulation around a certain hashtag.

"This is an attempt by a few users to artificially generate a large traffic flow that is disproportionate to the number of users. Twitter traffic flows can be manipulated by using, for example, automated bot accounts or human-run accounts. The CTM does not identify the different tools used to manipulate traffic flows."

"Ten hashtags were analysed in the report. These were: #OperationDudula, #PutSouthAfricansFirst, #PutSouthAficansFirst, #PutSouthAfricaFirst, #PatrioticSpace, #Xenophobia, #WeWantOurCountryBack, #VoestsekEFF, #VoetsekANC, and #GoldMafia," said the Centre.

Researchers found that #Xenophobia and #PatrioticSpace had the highest manipulation of online traffic.

"These two hashtags are each driven by single authors and identify common ties between authors sharing the same anti-immigrant interests for the purposes of amplification."

"#PutSouthAfricaFirst, PutSouthAfricansFirst, PutSouthAficansFirst (spelled with no letter "R" in Africans), and #OperationDudula were used as vehicles to drive engagement with xenophobic posts," the report found.

Researchers also found that the hashtags #VoetsekANC, #VoetsekEFF, and #GoldMafia were found and supported with external evidence as primarily organic hashtags.

"While proponents of the anti-immigrant rhetoric blame the ANC and EFF for their ‘lax’ approach and ‘pan-Africanist’ stance, instances of hashjacking (where a trending hashtag is used out of context to draw attention to an unrelated issue) were also detected. The online conversation around the 10 hashtags consists mainly of retweets. The conversation is also heavily infused with misinformation and disinformation, as well as inaccuracies," added the report.

According to the Centre, these were mostly centred around alleged crimes believed to be committed by immigrants, some including "statistics" to create the illusion of legitimacy in their posts.

"It is unclear whether the authors driving conversations about #Xenophobia, #PatrioticSpace, #VoestsekANC, and #PutSouthAfricaFirst (with the highest CTMs) are human or bot accounts. However, these authors can mislead other users into believing that the conversation is bigger than it is, amplifying the already problematic anti-immigrant sentiment that is rooted in intolerance as well as misinformation and disinformation," the Centre said.

The Star

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