An EDL supporter holds up an anti-Islam message during a rally in Birmingham. (Reuters)
An EDL supporter holds up an anti-Islam message during a rally in Birmingham.

A criminologist investigating the shadowy world of online hate crime has identified the eight types of Twitter user responsible for initiating and spreading Islamophobic abuse.

Imran Awan, a senior lecturer at Birmingham University, analysed the surge of online abuse directed at Muslims in the wake of the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2012, in an attempt to identify tactics used and the type of people responsible.

"When I started to examine the number of tweets, similar characteristics emerged. So I dissected all tweets and got this typology", Awan told

According to Awan, a type he names as "The Professional", in which he includes former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, is often responsible for organising and directing campaigns of abuse, often using several accounts.

"The Apprentice" type is new to Twitter, and targets people with the encouragement of more experienced online abusers.

Tommy Robinson called on EDL supoprters to follow him out of the anti-Islamist group PIC: IBTimes UK
Tommy Robinson would fall in the Awan's "Professional" Twitter troll category, if he were still leading the EDL. IBTimes UK

"The Accessory" joins in targetting account holders after another has initiated the abuse.

Those who take to the microblogging site to spread hate in the wake of a major incident, such as Lee Rigby's murder, are "Reactives" according to Awan, whilst the "Trawler" indiscriminately targets anyone with a Muslim connection.

Awan also classifies several types according to their methods, with "The Impersonator" using fake accounts to spread abuse; "The Mover" regularly changing their account to target individuals, and "the Disseminator" retweeting Islamophobic messages and pictures from others.

Awan said that he decided to carry out the study soon after joining Twitter.

"As somebody who had joined Twitter myself, I was shocked at the level of abuse I was getting," he said. He soon found out that it was a common experience for many Muslim social media users.

"I researched and talked a lot about Islamophobia, but it seemed nobody had tested it in the online world," he said.

Awam used data gathered in previous studies, including one by the Teesside University's Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist, and Post-Fascist Studies, which identified 734 hate crimes committed between 1 May 2013 and February 2014, which found that the overwhelming majority (599) were committed online, with only 135 committed on the street.

Awan's 8 Twitter Trolls

The Trawler: Will abuse anyone who is connected to Islam
The Apprentice: Mentored by experienced online abusers
The Disseminator: Retweets abusive messages, pictures and links
The Impersonator: Use fake profiles to abuse individuals
The Accessory: Joins in with abuse of vulnerable people
The Reactive: Inspired to campaign against a person or group after a major incident
The Mover: Changes Twitter accounts periodically
The Professional: Builds a major campaign, though using multiple accounts with large followings

The report uncovered that a third of the online incidents were linked to far-right movements.

Awan looked through messages under the hashtags #Woolwich, #Muslim and #Islam. He found that 75% showed strong anti-Islamic feeling and found that the majority were from accounts belonging to males from the UK.

Awam said that he hopes that the research will help law enforcement better understand the problem, which he said needed to be tackled urgently, with police often failing to take the problem seriously enough.

He called for "a change of mindset and culture - to think about what impact it will have on victims."

The study also criticises the "laissez-faire attitude from some of the social media sites such as Twitter who simply ask the victim either to block someone or close their account... online anti-Muslim hate therefore requires a multifaceted and international approach from different agencies, including the police, social networking sites, and a government-led approach that tackles online Islamophobia as a rising phenomenon."

Awan's study was published in the journal Policy & Internet.