Call to tackle extreme white nationalist ideas propagating hatred and violence gaining traction on social media
The extreme rightwing ideology that inspired the Christchurch mosque killer has been promoted so effectively by the far right that it has entered mainstream political discourse, new analysis reveals.
Researchers have found that organised far-right networks are pushing a conspiracy known as the “great replacement” theory to the extent that references to it online have doubled in four years, with more than 1.5 million on Twitter alone, a total that is rising exponentially.
The theory emerged in France in 2014 and has become a dominant concept of the extreme right, focusing on a paranoia that white people are being wiped out through migration and violence. It received increased scrutiny after featuring in the manifesto of the gunman who killed 51 people in the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand in March.
Now the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a UK-based counter-extremist organisation, has found that the once-obscure ideology has moved into mainstream politics and is now referenced by figures including US president Donald Trump, Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini and Björn Höcke of the German Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
Tweets from Trump earlier this year, for example, were interpreted by many as making a white nationalist case for his controversial border wall.
Despite its French origins, the ISD’s analysis has revealed that the theory is becoming more prevalent internationally, with English-speaking countries now accounting for 33% of online discussion.
Julia Ebner, co-author of the report at ISD, said: “It’s shocking to see the extent to which extreme-right concepts such as the ‘great replacement’ theory and calls for ‘remigration’ have entered mainstream political discourse and are now referenced by politicians who head states and sit in parliaments.”
She said that of the 10 most influential Twitter accounts propagating the ideology, eight were French. The other two were Trump’s account and the extreme-right site Defend Europa.
The study reveals that alternative social media platforms, image boards, fringe forums and encrypted chat channels are instrumental in diffusing influential ideologies that propagate hatred and violence. Far-right propagandists primarily use mainstream platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as avenues to disseminate material to audiences, while fringe platforms remain safe havens for the initiated to radicalise further.
The new media ecosystem has been used, for instance, to promote the fear of a “white genocide”, a topic that is active across unregulated image-board threads on 8chan and 4chan, censorship-free discussion platforms such as Voat, ultra-libertarian social-media sites such as Gab and Minds, and closed-chat channels. By using MIT tool MediaCloud to collect data, researchers have found that traditional media sites are found within the top 15 sources and are responsible for roughly 7% of total coverage of the term “remigration” alone.
Defined as a form of ethnic cleansing through the forced deportation of minority communities, the concept of “remigration” has been a particularly fevered subject. Since 2014, the volume of tweets featuring the word has surged, rising from 66,000 in 2014 to 150,000 in 2018. The first stark increase in conversation around the theory occurred in November 2014, coinciding with the first annual meeting on remigration organised in Paris by Generation Identity.
ISD researchers are currently embedded in 50 extreme-right chat channels on applications such as Discord, Telegram and WhatsApp, as well as monitoring groups, communities and discussion boards on 4chan, 8chan, Gab, Minds, Voat and Reddit.
Jacob Davey, co-author of the report at ISD, said: “Social media platforms are built to promote clickbait content to get more users liking, sharing and commenting. This research shows how the extreme right is exploiting this to boost hateful content in the form of memes, distorted statistics and pseudo-scientific studies.”
Through slick branding and savvy online campaigns, the far-right identitarian youth movement, whose members include neo-Nazis, has been instrumental in spreading far-right propaganda online. The report provides comprehensive evidence of how the “great replacement” and “white genocide” theories have influenced violent attacks, and shows their ongoing impact on political rhetoric in north America and Europe. Calls for action from tech companies and governments to regulate the spread of extremist ideas have been swift.
“The far right is able to take ownership of the ‘grey zone’ around contentious issues like migration because politicians and society are less willing to take on the role of thought leaders in these areas for fear of public outcry and outrage,” said Ebner.
“The international far right’s potential to incite violence has been systematically underestimated and neglected by governments, security forces and tech firms over the past decade. To prevent future far-right terrorist acts, we need a more proactive, globally coordinated response, as we had in the global response to jihadism.”
Read more: www.theguardian.com