New report: violent hashtags on Parler skyrocketed on January 6
A data scientist was able to collect months’ worth of posts and comments on Parler before Amazon essentially shut down the alt social platform on January 10 in response to the US Capitol riots. Hanging, execution and civil war-related hashtags skyrocketed during and directly after January 6.
The data scientist also found that hanging and execution hashtags -- like #pelosi4gallows, #hangtraitors, #bringbackpublicexecutions -- and civil war hashtags were often included in posts that also mentioned the Boogaloo Boys and Donald Trump.
The researcher has chosen to remain anonymous due to fears of violence, as well as his desire to write about other topics without having his identity strictly tied to this.
Unlike Twitter, Parler users were only able to search the platform by hashtags, and not post text. Because of that, hashtags were prevalent on any “Parley” (Parler’s version of a “tweet”) that the user wanted to disseminate as widely as possible.
"When I started crawling Parler a couple months ago," he told CyberNews, "it was like a gold mine of tagged information, because everyone used hashtags in conversation and the underlying data model was so simple."
As we discussed before, researchers were able to scrape Parler’s public data before the Amazon shutdown largely because Parler’s infrastructure was poorly engineered. Even posts deleted by users on the site were not actually removed – they were still available on Parler’s servers, but simply marked as “deleted.”
When asked how he collected the data, the researcher told CyberNews: "I collected approximately 10 million data points, right now my data is spread across multiple AWS data centers as the final weekend of Parler is when I scaled up my crawling operation, taking advantage of the Twilio drop in support to create thousands of accounts to get past the rate limiter."
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Analyzing hashtags related to hanging and executions
One of the starkest findings from the analysis showed the increase of hashtags related to hanging and executions by relative frequency. These hashtags would include such things as #pelosi4gallows, #hangtraitors, #bringbackpublicexecutions and others.
By relative frequency, we mean that the highest usage ever would have a value of 100, and other usages are compared to that. This is similar to how Google Trends works.
Below, you can see the relative frequency of hanging-related hashtags from July 2020 to January 10, 2021:
Above, you can see that these hashtags doubled after the presidential elections (purple marker), tripled after the Electoral college vote (white marker) and exploded on January 6 (red marker), the day of the US Capitol riots.
“The notion of murdering politicians was widely discussed on Parler for months before the 2020 US election,” the data scientist said, “and these posts were never moderated.”
This increase in hanging and execution related hashtags appears to have some relationship to the gallows erected on US Capitol grounds on January 6:
The researcher also included a word cloud of hashtags associated with Parler posts explicitly mentioning the murder of specific politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Eric Swalwell:
The larger the font, the more frequently those hashtags showed up alongside hanging and execution related hashtags. As you can see, the more frequent associated hashtags are related to US President Donald Trump’s campaign slogans and debunked claims of voter fraud.
Civil war hashtags on Parler
The next group that stood out to the researcher were hashtags related to civil war:
As you can see, the use of civil war related hashtags have a similar growth to the hanging-related ones from above. However, the civil war hashtags actually grew after January 6, seemingly in response to the US Capitol riots.
Civil war hashtags have been frequently associated with the Boogaloo Boys – far-right, anti-government extremists, normally seen in Hawaiian shirts and military gear. T-shirts emblazoned with “MAGA Civil War” were seen during the US Capitol riots:
The researcher, using the Wolfram Language for analysis, saw that posts with civil war hashtags generally replaced posts about hanging or executing politicians up until the site went offline.
“This is particularly frightening for those of us living in America,” the researcher said. “I am predicting we will see the real-world effects of this radicalization within the coming months.”
When the researcher looked at hashtags that are often mentioned together on Parler in relation to violence, he discovered an association between Boogaloo, violence/anti-establishment, and Trump-related hashtags:
Besides the analysis related to the US Capitol riots, the data scientist also noticed that at least 100,000 Parler users in some way believed the QAnon conspiracy. Hashtags for Parler posts related to QAnon were frequently associated with Covid denial and the conspiracy believing that George Soros or Bill Gates orchestrated the pandemic.
When asked how he got his start, he told CyberNews: "I have been following alt-right communities and hardcore right-wing discourse on the Internet for several years, ever since Trump was elected. I've even masqueraded my way into Trump rallies dressed like a supporter so I could talk to people and try understanding how modern society, with all the answers at their fingertips, could build and reinforce such a distorted view of the world for themselves."
The researcher emphasizes that while there is panic in ex-Parler users that all their data, even the deleted posts, have been scraped and archived, those types of posts were not analyzed here. In general, he does not want Parler users to be “victimized, called a fascist, or have their privacy taken from them.” Instead, he would like to focus on larger studies of these kinds of trends.
“I believe we need to study how technology enabled a group of people to radicalize each other and reinforced an echo chamber of conspiracies and racism,” he said. He further told CyberNews: "There were also a lot of phenomenally violent people mixed in with the regular MAGA crowd, and I definitely don't agree with them being shut down since these people have simply scattered to even darker corners of the Internet."
The Internet Archive is building a more comprehensive dataset of collected Parler posts, images, comments, users and media files, which many researchers plan to analyze further. "My web crawling method relied on recursively crawling user/post IDs," he told CyberNews, "while the IA version has a complete history including deleted/moderated posts. This will soon be available once the Archiveteam has finished uploading."
You can read the full report here.