What happened when I met my Islamophobic troll

The long speak: In 2017, I started getting regular contents from an anonymous Twitter user telling me my religion was evil. Eventually I responded and he agreed to meet face to face

In 2017, I started to receive contents from a Twitter user who called themself True Brit, telling me that my religion was ” Satanic”, “barbaric” and “evil”. Bearing a profile image of the St George’s cross and a biography that simply read” Anti-Islam, stop Islamic immigration now”, True Brit often spammed me with illustrations taken from anti-Muslim websites, blogs and Facebook groups. Sometimes they would be cartoons depicting the oracle Muhammad as a sexual deviant. Other days, I would be sent memes I had appreciated circulating in rightwing communities online, depicting groups of south Asian men who had been arrested for child sexual grooming, or alleged Syrian refugees who is currently, supposedly, secret members of Isis. One meme evidenced a man with a long beard, in combat camouflage, brandishing a handgun in one hand and comprising the hand of a woman wearing niqab. In bold lily-white letter below the image were the words” EUROPE IN 2020″.

True Brit never said anything directly to me to begin with. I had interpreted social media profiles like this one, and much worse, for years. Like those accounts, True Brit had few adherents- 65 in total. Their activity on Twitter primarily been incorporated into retweets from rightwing report locates such as Breitbart and Fox News. They often posted videos of online celebrities who were popular on anti-Muslim forums and Facebook groups, including Milo Yiannopoulos, a rightwing “provocateur” who has referred to Islam as “the real rape culture”, and Paul Joseph Watson, a UK-based YouTuber and editor of the conspiracy-theory website Infowars.com, who produces weekly videos about the” threats of Islam” in the west, with titles such as The Truth About Islamophobia and Dear Gays: The Left Betrayed You For Islam. True Brit was also a fan of the British rightwing commentator Katie Hopkins, who in 2015 likened Syrian refugees to cockroaches, and who until very recently rendered anti-Islam videos for Canadian far-right store The Rebel Media.

True Brit was a very active Twitter consumer. They would post at the least 10 times per day, often attacking members of the Labour party, in particular the darknes residence secretary Diane Abbott, labelling her a” disgusting bitch”, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, accusing him of being “anti-white” and “pro-Sharia law”. Reports like True Brit’s aren’t uncommon on Twitter. There are thousands of them, with names like Patriot Princess, FREEDOM OF SPEECH UK and THE GREAT AWAKENING: MAKE BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN. Although there is no exact figure for how many accounts on the platform could be classified as anti-Muslim, the cross-party thinktank Demos recorded 215,246 Islamophobic tweets mailed in English in July 2016- almost 7,000 a period. In an analysis of over 100,000 tweets sent between March 2016 and August 2018 from 45 rightwing Twitter accounts, researchers at Oxford University found that nearly half contained Islamophobic ideas.

When True Brit firstly messaged me on Twitter, I assumed it was an automated “bot” account. Bots have long been a common aspect of social media, and are estimated to number in the tens of millions on Twitter. They are programmed to like tweets, and to retweet and espouse other accounts, and are often used by commercial brands to share their adverts with real users on Twitter. Social media companies tend to consider bots harmless, and do relatively little to regulate them.

Bots can, however, be used in more sinister paths. In 2017, the Observer reported that popular rightwing and far-right figures were actively applying bots to retweet and boost their anti-Muslim content. A analyse of Islamophobic content on Twitter by the anti-racist thinktank Hope Not Hate had found that Pamela Geller, whose blog The Geller Report regularly posts anti-Muslim news and advises about the” Shariafication of the west”, had more than 100 reports that automatically retweeted every one of her posts, on top of her audience of hundreds of thousands of loyal readers.” The growth among Twitter accounts and websites spreading anti-Muslim dislike is alarming ,” said Patrik Hermansson, a researcher at Hope Not Hate.” In such a key area of public interest, it is an indication of increased interest in these views and, as each account or site grows, more people are exposed to profoundly prejudiced anti-Muslim panoramas .”

By late June 2017, the direct contents from True Brit had become incessant. What started as a few random thrusts of insult had become a regular invasion of DMs twice a period, wants to know why I comes within the framework of an” evil religion” and whether I actually wanted to follow the oracle Muhammad- “the worst person history has ever known”- who had” killed, enslaved and raped “. True Brit transmit me connects from the anti-Islam website The Religion of Peace, which posts articles, blogs and how-to guides for debating Islam online and” proving the evil roots” of Muhammad. When True Brit tired of me not replying to their private messages, they attained them public. Under tweets I posted- most of which “ve got nothing” to do with Islam or Muslims at all- they relentlessly posted anti-Muslim memes and shared been linked to videos of Muslim preachers in Pakistan calling for gays and lesbians to be killed. It was when they replied to one of my tweets with an Isis video, demonstrating jihadist boxers publicly hanging a boy they accused of being a thief, that I finally responded.

” Why do you prevent posting this shit to me ?” I author.” Why do you think any of this would change my mind about anything ?”

Half an hour later, True Brit reacted.” It’s not just you ,” they said.” I transmit it to everyone who follows Islam that I visualize .”

“Why?” I requested.” Have you convinced anyone to turn away from Islam because of it ?”

After a while, True Brit answered.” No … I belief Islam is an evil cult, and people should turn away from it. I don’t hate Muslims, I dislike Islam .”

” Don’t you think that by hate Islam you likewise detest the followers of the religion ?” I questioned.” How can you persuade someone they are following something evil when you attack the things that establish them who they are ?”

“No,” they responded.” I just want them to know they are following evil .”

After our first back-and-forth, I started speaking to True Brit on a near-daily basis. Most of our dialogues tended to tread similar ground, covering topics “thats been” popular on rightwing social media. We has spoken about what True Brit drawn attention to as” Pakistani Muslim grooming gangs” and how people, in True Brit’s terms,” simply following the commands of their oracle “. True Brit told me about about how Muslims were taking over towns and schools and encouraging non-Muslim offsprings to wear headscarves, datum the selection board had reaped from a Breitbart article about schoolchildren in Leicester visiting a mosque. And although True Brit evaded my questions about who they were, they were keen to ask me personal questions: why wasn’t I married yet? Did I is my intention circumcise my future offsprings? Would I kill my future child if they were gay?

But our dialogues weren’t just about religion. True Brit supported Aston Villa, and they would often talk about the team’s performance against challenger squads. We would talk about which Netflix series we were watching and whether the British version of House of Card was better than the US one. True Brit even tried to get me into their favourite ensemble, AC/ DC.

After weeks of talking, True Brit agreed to meet me at their home.

I stood in front of a mansion on a quiet, suburban street merely a few miles outside of Birmingham city centre, ultimately about to meet my anonymous online interlocutor. A middle-aged man opened the door, wearing a pair of three-quarter-length khaki shorts and a grassland blue-blooded T-shirt with two yellow grimes on the front.

True Brit immediately shook my hands and welcomed me into his house, telling me not to taken away from my shoes in case I inadvertently stepped in “cat-o-nine-tail” poo. He introduced himself as Phil. He was short, with wide-reaching shoulders that rolled forward as he moved into his default slouch. In harsh light, a slight paunch was visible. He had thin wisps of light brown hair that barely encompassed his retreat hairline and uneven stubble covering his face.

Phil lived on his own. On his kitchen walls were illustrations by his young daughter and photographs of them together at theme park, restaurants and outside Cardiff Castle. Since Phil’s divorce a year earlier, his daughter had to come to a different area of Birmingham with her mom. Phil said that the end of his wedlock” shatter me emotionally “.

He didn’t want to talk about it much, but told me that since then, “hes had” expended most of his time alone and at his computer, watching YouTube videos, reading articles and browsing message committees.” I started off merely wanting to read about politics ,” he said as he made us tea.” I voted for Brexit- the first time I’d ever properly voted- so I used to invest my occasion reading about the whole process, how the administration is negotiate with the EU. I wasn’t really that political, but it was just seeing everything that happened during the referendum. All the fighting, name-calling and the hypocrisy from the media- how they were insulting anyone who voted leave, but they just don’t understand what we go through .”

Phil told me how he had been let go from a steady, decently paid undertaking a couple of years earlier, and had struggled to get back on his paw as a self-employed handyman. At one stage he was claiming benefits, which had stirred him embarrassed, as if he “had lost all dignity”, being made to fill out endless forms at the neighbourhood jobcentre and attend countless interviews for jobs he didn’t want, just so he could claim the little money he was eligible to receive.

Around the same time, amid his marital trouble, Phil began spend more and more of his free time browsing websites that” weren’t the mainstream media or the biased BBC “. He would like to start see fog blogs he found on Google, including Truthseekers.org, which posted about the Illuminati and accused “elites”- politicians, celebrities and journalists- of having secret meetings where they ultimately planned to control the British population. From these blogs, Phil moved on to reading about the “great replacement”, a rightwing conspiracy conjecture claiming that white-hot British people are being deterred from is married and having infants, as part of a sinister story to replace them with non-white Muslim migrants and refugees.

It wasn’t long before Phil switched from blogs to more active communities on Facebook and YouTube, where “hes found” abundant videos about the great replacement from YouTubers such as Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Phil told me that he spent hours on YouTube,” researching the imminent demographic alteration “. From these videos, he had learned that” Islam is taking over the UK by stealth”, and that” their followers are being encouraged to have lots of children and outbreed non-Muslims “. They is well statements I had heard before on conspiracy websites and rightwing YouTube channels.

What was strange to me was just how much time Phil was spending online. He invested most of the day in his bedroom, where the paint was peeling off the wall and a thin sheet lay crumpled on his single bunked. On his table lay several bowls of days-old tea, one of which was beginning to show white spots of mould. But what immediately caught my eye when I participated his room was an unfurled uniting jack pennant videotapeed to the edge of his desk.

This was the table where Phil, under his True Brit alias, would sit at his computer and write to me. Now, as I sat with him, he showed me that he spent his time messaging ratings of others on Twitter with the same kind of content. I determined that his direct messages had all been sent to notable Muslim and leftwing figures. It is little doubt that he applied Twitter for little else.” Most of the time, they just block me ,” he said.” Some of them swear at me, call me names or accuse me of being a troll .” Phil retweeted almost every anti-Islam post he saw, often without even speaking their contents. He said retweeting” doesn’t mean I agree with it”, but instead that he craved” to induce the discussion about Islam open to the public “. He likewise found that as he continues to retweet anti-Muslim reports, he would amass more followers, especially if a big rightwing figure retweeted him in turn.” One of my tweets was favourited by Katie Hopkins a while back ,” he told me.” I intent up get 20 brand-new adherents off that- see if she had retweeted it to her followers !”

When I asked Phil if anyone had influenced him while he was developing his views about Islam, he claimed that he had come up with his” own positions based on my own research”, and that he wasn’t against Muslims. Nor was he racist, because” Islam isn’t a race – it’s a give of theories “. He said he hadn’t deliberately scoured for material on Islam. Rather, he said,” I’d go on YouTube, and I would just see a new video every day showing[ male] Muslim migrants assaulting wives, or robbing a shop, or burning a automobile. It happens all the time, and you can find it quite easily .” He showed me his YouTube homepage, rife with recommendations- based on what he had watched previously- of footage from EDL marchings, clips from the rightwing US programme The Alex Jones Show and videos from alt-right YouTube personalities. These videos appeared in YouTube’s recommended sidebar too; Phil had autoplay on, so they are able to run on from each other. On the whole, he was said that he watched at the least an hour of these videos each morning,” just because they were there “.

YouTube’s algorithm for recommended videos “re coming” under burn, particularly after the election of Donald Trump, when it was accused of promoting content that provoked racial and religious hatred and even violence. In the New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci called YouTube” the Great Radicalizer”, after finding that simply watching a few Trump rallyings led the website proposed to her videos that denied the Holocaust and called for Muslims to be forcibly evicted from the west. Tufekci argued that though YouTube was not intentionally sending its consumers to extremist material, draft recommendation algorithm, designed to keep users on the site for as long as possible, naturally was put forward more graphic material.” What deters people glued to YouTube ?” she questioned.” Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with- or to incendiary content in general .” And this didn’t just go for Trump supporters. Tufekci quoth an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, which found that even consumers who watched mainstream report on YouTube were” fed far-right or far-left videos “.

In a number of public statements since the 2016 US presidential election, Google has claimed to be clamping down on extremist material on YouTube. But commentators have accused it and other social media corporations of acting too late and doing too little. Even when extremist reports do get limited or censored, users often merely set up a new report, upload their old videos and quickly get their adherents back.

One such person was a YouTuber called World2Awaken, whose canal Phil had was in favour of. When I contacted World2Awaken, he told me his identify was Mike, but wouldn’t tell me his age or where he lived. He told me that two of his previous YouTube accounts had been deleted after he had posted substance deemed harmful by the site’s standards. Mike’s YouTube following was modest, but he uploaded videos at least once a week. All his videos were anti-Islam and anti-Muslim, with titles such as” Muslims demand Sharia law in Britain !” and” Muslims attack Christians in UK streets “. Most of his content was rent from other, large YouTube channels, such as Infowars, RT( formerly Russia Today) and The Rebel Media.

Mike likewise posted old-time videos of talkers who were well known for saying negative things about Islam, and who sometimes appeared on mainstream news channels: Tommy Robinson, for example, or the prominent critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and her husband, the historian Niall Ferguson. “Usually,” he told me by email,” I upload videos of Douglas Murray because I know they will get a lot of views .” Shortly before his canal was shut down by YouTube, World2Awaken shared a video of Murray, a political commentator and columnist for the Spectator, talking at an Intelligence Squared debate about how” Islam is not a religion of armistice “. The original video has had more than 1m panoramas on YouTube since it was first broadcast in 2011.

” I was getting a good thousand sentiments a day at the least ,” Mike recounted with pride.” Generally from people who would search for names of particular orators and come across my videos .” He is said that people had emailed him after coming across his canal to” thank you for asking for opening their eyes to the problem”, and said that he had amassed more than 2,000 customers in a year- a sizeable number for a canal that didn’t make original content.

Mike’s interpretation for this was that people were coming to YouTube to find out ” the truth” about immigration and Islam in their country.” You can listen to a video when you’re at work, on your mode dwelling, you don’t have to read anything- that’s one reason we are more effective at spreading our content than lefty newspapers ,” Mike clarified. He also argued that YouTube was more transparent than other forms of media, because” you can’t lie when you’re making a video “. Mike did is acknowledged that he sometimes uploaded videos he found without knowing the full context of the clip.

Once, he uploaded a video of mainly black football followers in Paris shouting after a match in 2014, naming it” Muslims attack bus after Ramadan “. Another period, he posted a clip of Abu Haleema, a UK-based Muslim vlogger whose passport was seized by the Home Office under suspicion of plans to engage in terrorism. Mike had taken the video from a Channel 4 documentary about countering periphery radicals online and reposted it with the title” UK Imam says Sharia will take over Britain by force”, despite the facts of the case that Abu Haleema wasn’t an imam.

Mike rejected these inaccuracies as unimportant.” Even if it was wrong that time ,” he said,” there is plenty of indicating that indicates Muslims are causing troubles everywhere they immigrate. They merely respect Sharia law and will not stop until Sharia takes over .” Mike then went offline and refused to answer any more of my questions.

When I asked Phil about YouTube videos that were uploaded either with a false synopsis or without context, he brushed it off and told me:” The news lies all the time, and you don’t call them up on that .” He wasn’t convinced that videos falsely imaging Muslims as crooks, rapists and violent intruders perpetuated a narrative that could be destructive and alienating for Muslims living in the UK, including those he had worked with, and the small Muslim community that lived only a stone’s throw away from his house.” I don’t think all Muslims are evil ,” he echoed.” I merely suppose their ideology is evil .”

For Phil, the veracity of individual occurrences was irrelevant.” You don’t know what’s true or not these days anyway ,” he shrugged.” But I know that whenever I check a terrorist attack or a shooting happen, the perpetrator always has a Muslim name … I know the problem is bigger .”

He interrupted and scrolled through Twitter on his phone. Sadiq Khan had just tweeted about reducing hate crime- the kind of tweet that trolls routinely respond to with hundreds of abusive, anti-Muslim notes.” I’ve got a meme for this ,” Phil sniggered, evidence me an image of a inadequately gleaned parody of Khan’s chief transplanted on to the body of a pig, the Arabic word “haram” written on its side.

” Mayor Khan wants to ban this ,” Phil tweeted.” Would be a shame if it get retweeted .”

Reaching Phil a year later demonstrated difficult. His original True Brit Twitter report had been removed for transgres the platform’s terms and conditions. Because Phil’s followers is well anonymous troll accounts like his, it was also difficult to figure out if he was tweeting from another account, or whether he was still active on social media at all. When I tried to call him, it started immediately to voicemail. I left a message asking if I could speak to him again, to talk about his prohibition and be interested to know whether he guessed- like some other more well-known rightwing provocateurs who had also been banned, such as Milo Yiannopoulos- that the platform was intentionally limiting his free speech, or if he felt they were scared of his words.

After I left him a third voicemail content, I put down my phone and logged into Twitter. I had received a message in my “others” inbox, where people I don’t follow can send me messages. The content came from an report with 60 followers and a profile picture of a union flag, using the epithet” David Brexit “.

” Islam out of the UK !” they wrote.

Adapted from “re coming with me”, Akhi: The Online World of British Muslims by Hussein Kesvani, published by Hurst and available at guardianbookshop.com

* Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long speak weekly email here.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ news/ 2019/ may/ 23/ what-happened-when-i-met-my-islamophobic-troll

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *