It’s depressing to think that a single soul would stoop to celebrate the brutal murder of a woman with a hashtag like #HeroMair. But what does Hope not Hate’s notorious #JoCox twitter analysis really tell us about the people with hate in their heads?
Clearly there were those on social media and other digital platforms who sought to exploit and profit from his disgusting actions to spread their vile beliefs. Nick Knowles – Hope not Hate
A few days after Thomas Mair was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox many of us were shocked to read that over 50,000 tweets were sent celebrating his crime in the immediate weeks that followed it.
Research conducted by Criminologists from Birmingham City and Nottingham Trent University also uncovered that ‘at least twenty-five thousand separate accounts wrote tweets that are classified as hate crime, over Cox’s murder‘.
The research findings were initially reported by the Guardian and sister Sunday paper The Observer but were quickly picked up by most of the British press, with the notable exception of the BBC.
The full report: Jo Cox ‘Deserved to Die’: Cyber Hate Speech Unleashed on Twitter was published a few days later. It was commissioned by anti-fascist charity Hope Not Hate who reported that a key theme to emerge from the analysis was that Jo Cox “deserved to die” because “she supported rape gangs”, referring to child sexual exploitation scandals in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
The research findings prompted more calls for social media companies to take action to tackle hate speech on their sites. It’s two authors called on social media companies to work alongside the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and help prosecute those responsible for posting, sharing and endorsing harmful content.
A few weeks after publication it’s authors released some additional commentary on the report in a blog piece on Hope not Hate’s website. In the final section of this twenty one paragraph article, Awan and Zempi took the opportunity to publicly clarify that their report did not claim that there were 50,000 tweets celebrating Jo Cox’s death or praising her killer (sent by 25,000 users).
We would like to clarify that our report did not make such a claim.
We make no apology for the way we studied this type of language and we feel we have clearly demonstrated there are links between offline hate and online hate speech, and the role users play online. We are proud of the fact that we have been able to highlight and shed light on the way in which some users, including the now-banned neo-Nazi group National Action, had celebrated and glorified Jo Cox’s death. Dr Imran Awan
Presumably this rather understated point of clarification was prompted by an investigation by the Economist who published their findings the following day…
They estimated that the number of tweets celebrating her death was at most 1,500, and probably much lower. Indeed the Data Research Scientists who independently verified the claims found evidence of less than seventy tweets that could possibly be interpreted as supporting Jo Cox’s murder.
They estimate that the claims were inflated by a factor of around one thousand, were only able to find evidence of one single twit using the hashtag #HeroMair and only ten tweets (posted from a handful of accounts) expressing the sentiment that Jo Cox ‘deserved to die’ .
Even some of the interpretation of the limited number of tweets specifically featured in the report was a tad fanciful so EYEdid a quick analysis of their origin and established that a significant proportion of them weren’t even sent by UK residents…
The authors refused to share their data with the Economist, ‘citing death threats,’ but they did at least acknowledge that the newspaper headlines ‘oversimplified the study’s findings‘. Hope not Hate meanwhile admitted that their initial press release (which claimed that 50,000 tweets celebrated Ms Cox’s death or praised her killer) was ‘erroneous‘ and was later ‘corrected’.
The Guardian, who were the only paper to claim to have seen an advanced copy of the report, quietly removed their entire article the following day.
Which lead to some of the outlets who reported on the Guardian’s ‘exclusive’ to update their own coverage. In the Daily Telegraph’s case this amounted to a one sentence update at the end of their piece stating that: ‘Since this article was published, an investigation into the report it describes has cast doubt upon its conclusions’.
The Independent to their credit included a more detailed update (to their now month old article) and even changed the headline to the slightly more accurate: Jo Cox’s murder inspired tweets celebrating killer Thomas Mair as a ‘patriot’.
Of course if you don’t read the Economist or a notorious #fakenews site that Hilary Clinton pledged to ban, then you probably missed this quite remarkable development because there wasn’t a peep out of anyone else, including Hope not Hate.
Which means that, either due to exceptional incompetence or sly design, an awful lot of people will have been left with a strong association between the murder of Jo Cox, hate crime and twitter users.
Psy-ops: Tactics intended to manipulate one’s opponents or enemies, such as the dissemination of propaganda or the use of psychological warfare
The Observer’s award-winning Crime, Defence, Legal Affairs Correspondent and Home Affairs Editor appears to have based his entire report on one ‘erroneous’ email.
The Guardian does have a significant track record of conscious and unconscious editorial bias on such matters but even so, incompetence is a believable excuse, especially given corporate journalism’s declining standards and increasing penchant for cutting and pasting press releases, .
Nevertheless it’s a shocking indictment of current journalistic standards that there wasn’t so much as a retweet of the link to the researchers heavily hidden retraction.
But even if we accept that Mark Townsend is an unconscionable incompetent, you have to wonder about the ethical standards currently being taught on the Criminology syllabus theses days, or what academics are prepared to do in a competitive research funding environment.
Because even if both Dr Iwan and Dr Zempi (Director of the Nottingham Centre for (ahem) Bias, Prejudice & Hate Crime) wish to retrospectively reckon that their report did not claim that there were 50,000 tweets celebrating Jo Cox’s death or praising her killer (sent by 25,000 users) they were more than happy to promote the myth until they were caught on.
Not only were these ideological snake oil salespersons more than happy to propagate an unsettling lie… …but they took a remarkably sensitive approach to anyone asking awkward questions about their outrageous claims….
Hope not Hate and the Observer’s ‘award-winning Crime, Defence, Legal Affairs Correspondent’ simply ignored such cynicism but #Sherlock’s tragically non fictional contemporaries showed a less than mature approach to the traditional peer review protocol. From a post puberty perspective this is presumably pronounced as ‘la, la, la, la, I’m not listening…
And then started claiming that someone, somewhere was sending them death threats (somehow but not on twitter).
Hope not Hate appear to have cleaned up their twitter tracks slightly but seem to be as complicit in the deceit as the comedy criminologists. It was their insanely inaccurate press release that everyone involved is blaming after all.
Noticeably the research paper they commissioned had a fall back position that even the Economist broadly agreed with, even after they had debunked their slur on the general British psyche.
The authors point out that their search terms were broader than those used in our analysis, including terms related to Brexit and immigration. So for good measure, we also studied a random sample of 1,000 Brexit-related tweets collected by scientists at the University of Sheffield. Of these, we judged less than 1% to be xenophobic or worse. Multiplied by the millions of tweets about Brexit, this would add up to plenty of bile—even if you narrowed the sample down using the most inflammatory search terms you could still probably generate a sample of 53,000.
So in other words at least 1% of the (worldwide twitter) population are racist. Try making an attention grabbing headline out of that…