Dark Germany: Hidden Patterns of Participation in Online Far-Right Protests Against Refugee Housing


The political discourse in Western European countries such as Germany has recently seen a resurgence of the topic of refugees, fueled by an influx of refugees from various Middle Eastern and African countries. Even though the topic of refugees evidently plays a large role in online and offline politics of the affected countries, the fact that protests against refugees stem from the right-wight political spectrum has lead to corresponding media to be shared in a decentralized fashion, making an analysis of the underlying social and mediatic networks difficult. In order to contribute to the analysis of these processes, we present a quantitative study of the social media activities of a contemporary nationwide protest movement against local refugee housing in Germany, which organizes itself via dedicated Facebook pages per city. We analyse data from 136 such protest pages in 2015, containing more than 46,000 posts and more than one million interactions by more than 200,000 users. In order to learn about the patterns of communication and interaction among users of far-right social media sites and pages, we investigate the temporal characteristics of the social media activities of this protest movement, as well as the connectedness of the interactions of its participants. We find several activity metrics such as the number of posts issued, discussion volume about crime and housing costs, negative polarity in comments, and user engagement to peak in late 2015, coinciding with chancellor Angela Merkel’s much criticized decision of September 2015 to temporarily admit the entry of Syrian refugees to Germany. Furthermore, our evidence suggests a low degree of direct connectedness of participants in this movement, (i.a., indicated by a lack of geographical collaboration patterns), yet we encounter a strong affiliation of the pages’ user base with far-right political parties.

International Conference on Social Informatics (SocInfo)