How the annual poppy appeal has been hijacked online

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Poppies are a common sight on British shirts and coats this time of year - but online some people are using the burst of poppy popularity to push their political agendas.

The official poppy appeal has been running since 1921 and is organised by the Royal British Legion to benefit service members and ex-service members. Its inspiration was Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields" after witnessing the Second Battle of Ypres. Poppies grow wild in Belgium and northern France, and after World War One the flower came to be a seen as a general symbol of remembrance.

On Twitter, poppies have been mentioned more than 20,000 times since the campaign launched on 22 October. But amidst the most popular tweets put out by the Royal British Legion itself are other heavily retweeted messages from groups pushing their own political agendas. Right-wing groups have been sharing stories and images, with some saying that Muslims are "offended" by poppies.

image source, Twitter

In response to such messages, one man's Facebook post was shared thousands of times. Jez Hunt wrote: "No one is offended by poppies... It's a lie put about by the far right, to make you think Muslims will get upset. Muslims fought, in huge numbers in both world wars."

A few radical Islamists in the UK did indeed use social media to criticise the poppy, these were not widely shared and did not appear to represent a large swathe of opinion. Rather, it was other anti-British groups were more active in talking about poppies on social media. One account, "Crimes of Britain," tweets regularly about bloody incidents in Britain's colonial history. It is now repeatedly tweeting drawings and pictures of historic incidents to criticise the British Army.

image source, Twitter

That account has been joined by a few Twitter users that identify themselves as Irish republicans:

image source, Twitter

But the battle over the poppy was not all negative. Also popular was a photo of Manchester City and Argentina striker Sergio Aguero wearing one of the red flowers, with several Twitter users noting that Argentina and Britain went to war over the Falklands in 1982.

image source, Twitter

The poppy hasn't been immune to political debate in the past - as our colleagues at Newsbeat reported last year. But while politically charged messages are among the most popular poppy tweets, there are also many less controversial messages of support.

image source, Twitter
image source, Xinhua

With this tweet, China's state news agency released a new video message to the world. WATCH HERE.

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