25.08.2018

Did Facebook fuel Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany?

This landmark paper investigates the link between social media and hate crime using Facebook data. Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each, they analyzed the local community by any variable that seemed relevant: Wealth, demographics, support for far-right politics, newspaper sales, number of refugees, history of hate crime, number of protests.

They show that right-wing anti-refugee sentiment on Facebook predicts violent crimes against refugees in otherwise similar municipalities with higher social media usage. The study finds that the effect decreases with distracting news events; increases with user network interactions; and does not hold for posts unrelated to refugees. The results suggest that social media can act as a propagation mechanism between online hate speech and real-life violent crime.

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent. The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

Other experts, asked to review the findings, called them credible, rigorous — and disturbing. The study bolstered a growing body of research, they said, finding that social media scrambles users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong.

Download full study

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