How the Far-Right Polarises Twitter: 'Highjacking' Hashtags in Times of COVID-19

Twitter influences political debates. Phenomena like fake news and hate speech show that political discourse on micro-blogging can become strongly polarised by algorithmic enforcement of selective perception. Some political actors actively employ strategies to facilitate polarisation on Twitter, as past contributions show, via strategies of 'hashjacking'. For the example of COVID-19 related hashtags and their retweet networks, we examine the case of partisan accounts of the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and their potential use of 'hashjacking' in May 2020. Our findings indicate that polarisation of political party hashtags has not changed significantly in the last two years. We see that right-wing partisans are actively and effectively polarising the discourse by 'hashjacking' COVID-19 related hashtags, like #CoronaVirusDE or #FlattenTheCurve. This polarisation strategy is dominated by the activity of a limited set of heavy users. The results underline the necessity to understand the dynamics of discourse polarisation, as an active political communication strategy of the far-right, by only a handful of very active accounts.
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