Formerly banned far-right party Britain First cultivates new audience on return to Twitter

By: sam doak&
May 4 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
Formerly banned far-right party Britain First cultivates new audience on return to Twitter

Source: Reuters

Since Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter, the social media platform has seen an influx of previously banned users and organizations. Among these is Britain First, a far-right political party based in the United Kingdom. Long barred from mainstream social media platforms, the party and its leadership have seized the opportunity to reach new audiences. Britain First is fielding eight candidates in the 2023 local elections in parts of England on May 4. In the run-up to the elections, the organization and its leaders have steadily cultivated and grown their followings and published a steady stream of divisive rhetoric and outright misinformation. 

Through publicly available information on the social media analytics site Social Blade, Logically Facts found that Britain First and, more specifically, its leader Paul Golding, grew their Twitter followings substantially during April 2023. Britain First, which has been given a gold "verified organization" badge by Twitter, more than doubled its audience from 6,381 to 16,464 followers. Golding, who appears to be verified through the platform's paid "Twitter Blue" service, picked up over 14,000 followers during the same period, ending the month with a total of 50,917. 

The volume of content posted by Golding and Britain First demonstrates the organization's enthusiasm for Twitter in recent weeks. Throughout April, Golding and Britain First posted 1,083 and 859 times respectively. Together, these accounts averaged just over 64 tweets per day over the course of the month.

While it is not unusual for political parties and their leaders to post regularly before an election as part of the campaign process, throughout April, both Britain First and Golding repeatedly shared false and inflammatory narratives. A persistent topic across both accounts was the "great replacement," a racist conspiracy theory whose proponents claim immigration is a coordinated effort to replace white European populations. Other falsehoods the party shared include the unfounded claims that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is engaged in people trafficking, and that asylum seekers are costing the United Kingdom at least £4 billion per year. 

Britain First is no stranger to social media. By 2017, it had amassed over 1.75 million followers on Facebook. This level of engagement is unparalleled in mainstream British party politics: the Conservative Party, which has governed since 2010, currently only has 754k Facebook followers, less than half of Britain First's at its peak. While this never translated into success at the ballot box, for a time, the party's large Facebook following afforded it an outsized ability to spread its political message and plug its online store, selling merchandise such as t-shirts. In 2018, however, the party saw a reversal in its fortunes. In the wake of public condemnation, criminal convictions, and changing attitudes concerning social media moderation, Facebook (now Meta) decided to ban the party and its leadership from its platforms. By this point, it had already been banned by Twitter for breaching rules prohibiting abusive conduct. 

In the following years, Britain First was confined to the fringes of social media. Platforms such as Telegram afforded the party a mouthpiece, albeit to a far more limited audience. Speaking to Logically Facts, Dr. Bharath Ganesh, an assistant professor of Media Studies at the University of Groningen, commented on how social media bans affected Britain First and their ability to communicate. "When we're talking about these sort of reactionary, far right, racist groups like Britain, first, they end up on Gab, or they go to Telegram tends to be the places that they go to," Dr. Ganesh stated. "Basically, they end up on those platforms, and not a lot of people are there." 

With just over 17,000 subscribers on Telegram, Britain First's reach on the platform is far from the numbers it had previously attained on Facebook. According to Dr. Ganesh, the nature of Telegram and other social media sites affects the types of audiences available to its users, stating, "they're not exactly nice platforms to be on, right? They're not using the best technology and that kind of stuff. And they're really only preaching to the converted. Nobody really has a Gab account unless they're sort of down with the mission."

By allowing Britain First to operate on Twitter, the company has given the party a reach it has not had in years. For Dr. Paul Jackson, a Professor in the History of Radicalism and Extremism at the University of Northampton, this decision is emblematic of the platform's direction since Elon Musk's arrival. "It's a reverse of the trend where we were seeing far-right groups being removed from mainstream social media platforms and turning to alternative social media tools,” Dr. Jackson told Logically Facts, before elaborating that "this is kind of a good example of that trend now taking a new term with Twitter's new ownership and more extremist type of politics being much more available in the mainstream media space."

Further commenting on Britain First's historic inability to gain traction outside of social media, Dr. Ganesh said, "even at the height of their huge amount of Facebook followers, when they went out to do different kinds of events, it was a pretty small group of people showing up to those events. So all of that followership, that doesn't really translate into any tangible or meaningful organization at the level of Britain first… So, in this sense, Britain first doesn't really register as a meaningful political movement outside of the internet."

Twitter has allowed Britain First to grow its following and spread seemingly unchecked false narratives in the weeks before the local elections. While this raises serious questions concerning the level of responsibility the social media company ought to bear, any potential boost to Britain First's electoral prospects should not be overstated. Since its inception, the party has performed poorly at local, parliamentary, and European elections, despite successes on social media. 

Logically Facts contacted both Twitter and Britain First for comment. Twitter declined to address any of the points raised, responding with an emoji, and Britain First did not reply at all. 

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before