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Culture Jun 16, 2019 9:16 AM EST

An activist journalist tried to take down Quillette; it backfired

This story is about a lie. A lie about Eoin Lenihan that was told and promoted without any regard for truth that was very much within reach. Eoin Lenihan is not a “far right” keyboard warrior, as CJR is advertising. He has dedicated much of his life to quite the opposite.

An activist journalist tried to take down Quillette; it backfired
Anna Slatz Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

On May 15th, far right twitter troll Eoin Lenihan shared a noxious thread denigrating the hard-working journalists of the world as violent, thuggish vandals and rioters. The keyboard cretin would defame and demean the most vulnerable of our society, lumping them in with the Molotov-cocktail wielding, University campus dwelling, hair-trigger censures. A truer crime had never been committed.

The only problem—that didn’t happen.

If you had read the Columbia Journalism Review article written on June 12th by Jared Holt, however, you’d have never known. In fact, Holt, in his very first paragraph, presents Lenihan as a “far right social media user” with “no known association with any previously known organization that researches extremism.” On CJR’s official Twitter Feed, Lenihan is called an “established far-right troll.”

From this, you’d have never known that Dr. Eoin Lenihan had won a contract to work with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change as an expert combatting far-right extremism. Nor would you have known that he currently works with the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).  In communications with The Post Millennial, Lenihan reveals that Holt never asked any questions pertaining to the academic, occupational, or experiential background that would have qualified him to speak on or research in to the issue of online extremism.

So, how did Lenihan get involved in researching Antifa? That was another question Holt conspicuously failed to ask, according to the communications. Lenihan’s journey began after speaking with Dr. Udo Baron, another extremism expert who works with Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany—at a counter-extremism conference in Berlin. In a casual post-conference conversation, Dr. Baron had noted the lack of sources and insight into the far left, which prompted Lenihan to begin establishing a data set from which further information could be derived. He never set out to create a link between Antifa and journalists. The information which was published on his Twitter and later in Quillette was, as Lenihan described to The Post Millennial, a consequence of the creation of his data set.

According to Lenihan, it is standard practice, in any online demographic research, to establish 15-20 seed accounts from which to ascertain a wider demographic. In this case, Lenihan primarily utilized 16 self-identifying large Antifa collectives as his seed from which to pull nearly 60,000 Antifa or Antifa associated accounts. As extremism research often seeks to weed out those accounts with the most influence and interactions, Lenihan condensed the pool of accounts into a core of 962 with overlapping connections. Surprisingly, 22 of those 962 were found to be verified, with 15 being journalists. In his Quillette article, Lenihan wrote that this did not necessarily reflect or suggest an immediate assumption that these journalists were associated with Antifa. After all, journalists routinely have to follow a diverse array of accounts to keep tabs on various sources and stories. Lenihan wanted to note these journalists for further study, and began a preliminary assessment of some of the journalist’s work covering antifascist violence. Lenihan then noted that it was disturbing that some of the journalists with the most pronounced associations with the Antifa seed accounts had the most pro-Antifa coverage. This is not just a claim—he gives evidence of this.

But Holt’s article demonstrated a clear lack of understanding to Lenihan’s explanation of his methodology, and, based on the communications released to The Post Millennial, no attempt to rectify his lack of understanding.

In his CJR article, Holt claims Lenihan told him that his “methodology consisted of labelling twitter users as “highly connected” to Antifa if they had “8 or more connections” on Twitter to accounts either run by antifascist activists or by a lecturer at Dartmouth university.” The first problem is that he fails to mention that the “lecturer at Dartmouth” is Mark Bray, the author of the Antifascist handbook. Initially, Holt had failed basic fact-checking, and claimed Mark Bray was a Professor from Hong Kong. The second issue is that Lenihan’s methodology was not based on “eight” connections to any antifascist accounts, but eight connections to the seed pool of 16, or an eighth degree range. In short—those in the eighth degree range do not simply have “eight” Antifa connections on Twitter. They have eight connections to the initial, carefully selected seeds and within that dataset they are in the top 1.65% of most connected (to those seeds) out of 60,000 accounts. One hell of a connection.

But this story is about more than simply about one man’s research into the radical left, and the influence—in some cases, admitted influence—that might have in the media. After all, that’s not new. Political influence in the media is absolutely everywhere. Jared Holt himself does similar activity, instead keeping an eye on the radical right at Right Wing Watch. This is good and necessary work.

This story is about a lie. A lie about Eoin Lenihan that was told and promoted without any regard for truth that was very much within reach. Eoin Lenihan is not a “far right” keyboard warrior, as CJR is advertising. He has dedicated much of his life to quite the opposite. Holt makes a broad spectrum of suggestive claims which Lenihan evidences through released communications were never investigated or interrogated. Absolutely no follow ups were provided to the vague, seven initial questions Holt provided.

The few comments Holt did explicitly request from Lenihan were not included, despite Holt telling him in plain language that they would be.

In his responses to Holt, Lenihan noted that his study was not seeking to make a relation between journalists and Antifa—but was instead attempting to categorize Antifa accounts on Twitter. Holt never mentions this, and instead presents Lenihan’s research as targeting journalists exclusively.

Holt also declines to include Lenihan’s response to likely the singular most important personal question he asked, that regarding Lenihan’s Twitter suspension, instead choosing to craft his own narrative. After reporter Andy Ngo brought attention to Lenihan’s thread, Lenihan became inundated with threats, and reports against his account, and was eventually suspended as a result. That Lenihan used to operate a parody Twitter account which was suspended is irrelevant, as his personal Twitter predates that other account. Therefore, it does not violate Twitter’s policies on creating new accounts to avoid suspensions.

It appears that Lenihan’s only transgression was that old satire account. Bearing a resemblance to Godfrey Elfwick or Titania McGrath, he called it ProgDad, and it spoofed woke culture. It was legitimately funny, even receiving praise from Joe Rogan’s podcast. This is the only evidence that the Columbia Review of Journalism has to connect Lenihan to the “alt-right.” That’s it.

Lenihan’s research was not conclusively submitted to the Twitter commentariat for review, though. His work is currently undergoing the peer review process with Social Networks, another detail Holt failed to acquire despite its accessibility, choosing instead to lead people to believe it was deliberately withheld. Lenihan had begun to conclude and release some details about his findings only because of an upcoming talk he was giving on online counter-terrorism at a major European research University. The name of the University is known but being withheld by The Post Millennial to protect the peace of the event.

Ultimately, all of the details that were needed, were available. Lenihan was an open book, and honestly answered all of the questions posed to him.

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