From solidarity to blame game: A computational approach to comparing far-right and general public Twitter discourse in the aftermath of the Hanau terror attack

Terror attacks are followed by public shock and disorientation. Previous research has found that people use social media to collectively negotiate responses, interpretations, and sense-making in the aftermath of terror attacks. However, the role of ideologically motivated discussions and their relevance to the overall discourse have not been studied. This paper ad-dresses this gap and focuses specifically on the far-right discourse, comparing it to the general public Twitter discourse following the terror attack in Hanau in 2020. A multi-method ap-proach combines network analysis and structural topic modelling to analyse 237,000 tweets. We find responsibility attribution to be one of the central themes: The general discourse pri-marily voiced sympathy with the victims and attributed responsibility for the attack to far-right terror or activism. In contrast, the far right – in an attempt to reshape the general narra-tive – raised a plethora of arguments to shift the attribution of responsibility from far-right activism towards the (political) elite and the personal circumstances of the shooter. In terms of information sharing and seeking, we demonstrate that new information was contextualised differentially depending on the ideological stance. The results are situated in the scientific dis-course concerning differences in social media communication ensuing terrorist attacks.

Tags: collective sense-making, Far-right discourse, Network Analysis, Social Media, terror attack, topic modelling, Twitter