There are many forms of digital hate, ranging from online bullying to attacks carried out by hate, extremist or terrorist groups. Recently there has been a tremendous surge in these group’s destructive agendas and they are affecting our society as they emerge from the online shadows.
As the threat of digital hate continues to grow no one is immune to its undue influence, said Rick Eaton, the Senior Researcher for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism & Hate Project, during a digital hate presentation for the Columbus Police Academy on October 6, 2017.
Not many people surf the web strategically looking for an opportunity to be influenced by hate, extremist or sophisticated terrorist groups. Yet, it is non-suspecting web surfers and innocent social media viewers that are considered the best prey for such groups. The truth of the matter is that many of these groups are usually led or influenced by people who are well educated and technologically savvy. While these groups often have their own websites, they tend to also focus on highly-strategic recruitment plans to sustain and grow their following (Columbus Police Academy, 2017).
Because social media is such a pivotal cornerstone of our daily social experience, many group leaders and their supporters try to forge common bonds with others through various social media sites. Slowly, they begin grooming their new acquaintances with light propaganda. If and when this method sparks interest in their new friends, it can even influence them to spread the message to their own friends about the news and information that they have been exposed to: this further intensifies the interest and bonding.
Overtime, the newcomers cultivate friendships with the group activists, and their views begin to shift due to the consistent exposure to propaganda. Because these shifts in thought usually begin subconsciously, there is no abrupt shift in behavior, which makes it difficult for someone to clearly realize what has happened to them. Furthermore, because these groups began softening their images to align with names and symbols that do not seem racist or offensive, it can be difficult for the average person to identify exactly with whom or what they are getting involved (Columbus Police Academy, 2017; ADL, 2017).
According to Rick Eaton, these online strategies are often rewarding for many groups, especially when they target isolated and vulnerable people who crave to feel included in a community. In addition to social media, these groups have narrowed in on another lucrative method of infecting and recruiting people through gaming websites and online gaming connections, especially taking advantage of the emerging virtual reality gamer craze (Columbus Police Academy, 2017).
Groups like this do not restrict themselves to using an online presence for recruitment. Such groups have been known to use certain websites with loose regulations governing posting policies to verbally attack and threaten others: Websites like GAB, Reddit, 4chan and 8chan to name a few. GAB, especially is quickly gaining momentum and popularity in the U.S.
Eaton also went on to say that because laws around our digital platforms are still evolving, prosecuting many digital hate offenses are often challenging. It is difficult to measure exactly where legislation should be moving if people are not reporting what they encounter.
Likewise, Mark Collins, a criminal attorney based out of Columbus who attended the Police Academy presentation, shared Eaton’s sentiment and added that many law enforcement agencies still lack the ability to retrieve and preserve digital evidence from many websites (Columbus Police Academy, 2017).
What can you do to help?
Almost every social media site has enforced policies regarding hate speech or any digital illustrations that condone hate crimes or violence. If you see it, take it seriously, and report it via reporting features on the site. You can also text “combathate” to 27126, Eaton proscribes. For further guidance on policies and reporting measures for various sites visit here , and for more information about your local resources for reporting, click here (ADL, 2017; Columbus Police Academy, 2017; Holley, 2017).
For more information on this topic, please watch the full presentation and panel discussion here.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL). (2017). Propaganda, extremism and online recruitment tactics. October 12, 2017, from https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk/propaganda-extremism-online-recruitment
Columbus Police Academy.(2017, October 6). Digital hate presentation & panel discussion. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEb_1i8uxPg
Holley, P. 2017, September 26). Reporting a hate crime is notoriously hard. Can this digital tool change that?. Washington Post. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2017/09/26/reporting-a-hate-crime-is-notoriously-hard-can-this-digital-tool-change-that/?utm_term=.d3499642c465