Nearly 60% of anti-immigration tweets come from USA

Mike Finnerty 08 May 2024

Research carried out by Sky News has found that American accounts are a major driving force behind anti-immigration sentiment on Irish social media.

The research was carried out by journalist Sam Doak, a journalist with Sky News, with data from Twitter examined using the social media monitoring tool Talkwalker.

Hashtags such as #IrelandIsFull and #IrelandBelongsToTheIrish have become more prominent on Twitter since 2022, coinciding with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Elon Musk’s takeover of the social media site.

Musk himself has become combative with the Irish government in recent times over the Hate Speech Bill and was accused of facilitating violent content during last November’s riots.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee accused Twitter of not complying with Garda requests to take down false information related to the riots, which Musk denies.

The Wicklow town of Newtownmountkennedy has become the latest flashpoint in the debate surrounding immigration in Ireland, but it has now become clear that the social media narrative involving immigration is being shaped outside Irish shores. 

The Sky News research found that 56.1% of accounts that used the Newtownmountkennedy hashtag in late April were located in the United States, well ahead of the 20.8% of hashtag users who live in Ireland, with 9.5% and 3% of the hashtags coming from accounts based in the United Kingdom and Canada respectively.

Three of the five biggest tweets that used the hashtag came from outside Ireland according to the data, with far-right English activist Tommy Robinson among them.

In the month of April, 54.4% of tweets with the hashtag #IrelandIsFull came from the United States, while 57% of tweets that used the hashtag #IrelandBelongsToTheIrish were from American Twitter accounts.

Further analysis of the #IrelandBelongsToTheIrish hashtag found that four of the five most engaged tweets on the hashtag were from Irish accounts, but the 5th most engaged tweet on the hashtag came from American far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Jones, who was successfully sued for $1.5 billion dollars for spreading conspiracy theories about the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in the United States, engaged with the hashtag.

Doak, who carried out the research, said “I think these figures help to illustrate the level of influence users outside of Ireland have on online conversations concerning migration in the country.”

“Importantly this doesn’t minimise the role of Irish figures, or the country’s internal politics,” he added, and pointed to similar research he carried out following November’s riots.

American far-right personalities such as Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon and talk show host Tucker Carlson were actively stirring discussion surrounding immigration during and following the riots, according to a December 2023 report by American technology magazine Wired.

American interference in Irish politics has become a trend over the last decade, with prominent anti-abortion activists travelling to Ireland in an unsuccessful attempt to influence the Repeal referendum.

During that referendum, Facebook banned advertisements related to the referendum that came from non-Irish advertisers.

A 2019 report from OpenDemocracy found that organisations linked to America’s religious right had pumped over $50 million dollars into various political movements in Europe between 2009 and 2019, with OpenDemocracy editor Mary Fitzpatrick telling the Irish Examiner in 2019 “American conservatives have increasingly been working with groups throughout Europe.”

A 2022 report from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism found that a dozen far-right groups were active in Ireland, with the groups sharing common beliefs of wanting to “harass, and inspire violence against people based on their identity traits including race, religion, ethnicity, language, national or social origin, caste, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

The report found “some of Ireland’s far-right groups are influenced by American far-right extremists and are actively engaged with other extremist groups in Europe.

Closer to home, the findings of the Sky News report have led to accusations of foreign interference in the Irish political system.

A tweet from the Green Party, in relation to the Sky News report, read “Americans are driving Irish political discourse, with most of the noise on supercharged hashtags coming from not just the next town over, but from across the sea.”

“This seems like a bit of an issue with local and European elections in June,” the tweet said.

Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan said, “we often discuss Russian attempts to subvert the democratic process but perhaps we’re looking in the wrong direction and it’s the USA we need to put under the spotlight.”

In recent weeks, prominent West Dublin politicians such as former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Green Party minister Roderic O’Gorman have been the target of abuse and harassment from far-right figures.

A video that circulated on social media in late April saw Varadkar targeted with homophobic slurs while sitting outside a Dublin cafe, while a number of masked protesters gathered outside O’Gorman’s home with banners reading “Minister O’Gorman hates children” and “South Dublin says no to, close the borders.” 

Labour councillor John Walsh said that the demonstration outside O’Gorman’s house was “despicable and toxic activity by a small group of extremists,” saying there was “no excuse for targeting an elected representative’s home, further dubbing them “masked cowards who despise democracy.”

“No surprise that cowards wearing masks won’t put themselves up for election,” he added.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, who has also seen protesters appear outside his home in recent years, said “the recent surge in far-right hatred and xenophobia we’re seeing in Ireland is being stoked from abroad. 

“Many decent Irish people are being lied to, misled and ultimately manipulated from abroad,” the Fianna Fáil TD said.

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