Antifa often receives media coverage that is neutral or even favorable, with its members’ violence either being ignored by reporters or vaguely explained away as a product of right-wing provocation. What’s more, anecdotal evidence has suggested that many of the mainstream reporters who are most active in covering Antifa also tend to enthusiastically amplify Antifa’s claims on social media.
In October 2018, my research partner and I decided to investigate the truth of this impression by using a mix of network mapping and linguistic analysis to see which prominent journalists who covered Antifa also were closely connected to leading Antifa figures on social media. We then inspected the Antifa-related stories these journalists had written.
We created a data set of 58,254 Antifa or Antifa-associated Twitter accounts based on the follows of 16 verified Antifa seed accounts. Using a software tool that analyzed the number and nature of connections associated with each individual account, we winnowed the 58,254 Antifa or Antifa-associated Twitter accounts down to 962 accounts. This represents a core group of Twitter users who are connected in overlapping ways to the most influential and widely followed Antifa figures. Of these 962 accounts, 22 were found to be verified—of which 15 were journalists who work regularly with national-level news outlets.
It should be stressed that a journalist’s close social-media engagement with any particular group should not be seen as incriminating per se. Many journalists follow—and even interact with—all manner of figures online, either out of personal curiosity, professional interest, or even as a means of developing sources. In identifying this group of 15 journalists whose engagement with Antifa is especially intense, our goal was not to accuse them of bias out of hand, but rather to identify them for further study, so as to determine if there was any overall correlation between the level of their online engagement with Antifa and the manner by which these journalists treated Antifa in their published journalism.