What search terms can tell us about the alt-right

The so-called Maga bomb plot has frightened us all. As someone who spends every day studying online search trends, I’ve found the targeting of America’s leading liberal voices very eerie.

Why is it eerie, you might ask? Mainly because I see all these names linked daily to Trump speeches, far-right rallies and alt-right websites.

If I had to produce a macabre list of the alt-right’s most hated US political entities based solely on search terms across the internet, the initial recipients of the suspicious packages – Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN, George Soros and Robert De Niro – would be the top five without question. These are the most reviled bogeymen and women in the eyes of the far right. And news today about other critics of Donald Trump such as Senator Cory Booker and ex-intelligence chief James Clapper being targeted added credence to the theory that what we’re seeing is terror driven by such an ideology.

We might talk about the power of the internet and social media as abstract and trivial much of the time, but this bomb plot brings it home hard. While Trump and his surrogates may throw insults and accusations against figures such as George Soros and Hillary Clinton, these comments are not quickly forgotten. It seems they have real impact, however lazy or erratic the delivery.

For the disenfranchised right (and indeed left), it is very easy to only find articles, video and posts that encourage hardline opinions. Social media sites come under fire for encouraging such echo chambers regularly.

For digital journalists like myself, it is an obligation to reach everyone, no matter their agenda, informing them about major issues from a fact-based approach.

The internet easily mirrors a user’s personal opinions – the challenge for news organisations is to make it mirror the world as it really is. That means commissioning as big a diversity of (civil and logical) opinions as possible, stringently fact-checking our news at all times, and using technological tools to offer that range of subjects and ideas to as many people as possible. A clever use of search engine optimisation makes that possible.


Matt Payton

SEO Editor

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