Enlist Social Media Users to Tackle Online Extremism

A new report by the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos, supported by Facebook, examines the activity of counter speech and populist right-wing groups on Facebook and makes recommendations for counter-speech groups to diffuse their messages from within.

The interim report is the first in a series of break-through pilot studies, exploring the potential of counter-speech to mobilise social media users to play an active role in defending and moderating their communities. It is hoped that successful counter-speech could offer an effective response to extremism, whilst maintaining the principle of free and open public spaces for debate.

While Facebook’s standards prohibit and remove hate speech, there are often instances of what the authors describe as “disagreeable” content, which do not violate these policies.

The study explores whether counter-speech, which is faster, more flexible and responsive than platform-led interventions, could prove a useful tactic to address these types of posts.

The researchers collected almost 30,000 public posts and interaction data from 150 right-wing populist Facebook pages from the UK, France, Italy and Hungary over two months between October and December 2014. These were then compared and contrasted with the content (2,364 posts) on the 26 identified counter-speech pages.

Key Findings:

  • In the UK, counter-speech pages are smaller in number and more limited in their activity, but achieve a greater amount of sharing and interactions than populist right-wing pages
  • Counter-speech pages tend to focus on parodying or satirising extremist language
  • UK-based right-wing populist pages tend to have more concentrated networks than counter-speech pages, with few, more active users
  • The most popular content type on right-wing populist pages is commentary, and the most popular tone is ‘celebratory’ (ie. commemorating war dead or patriotic pride), followed by ‘angry’
  • Populist right-wing pages are far more effective at posting content which goes beyond their network of page fans. Counter hate pages can be more effective at producing content which appeals to a wide audience

The report concludes that counter-speech pages not as active as right-wing populist pages – and particularly so in France and Italy. The authors recommend that efforts are made to increase the level and quality of content on counter-speech pages, and to ensure it can be shared more widely.

Further reports in the series will examine speech and content that challenges extreme Islamist ideology, in the UK and beyond.

For further information regarding this series, please contact: Jamie Bartlett.



Sophie Gaston – Press and Communications Manager, Demos
0207 367 6325 | (Out of Hours) 07472745678