WASHINGTON, April 19, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Social media platforms are allowing domestic extremists that peddle the possibility of violent action to organize, recruit, and plan, a new investigation—The Domestic Extremist Next Door — from the Digital Citizens Alliance (Digital Citizens) and the Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) revealed today.
Digital Citizens and CSW researchers found that domestic terrorists and militia easily penetrate social media platforms’ defenses to share propaganda and incite violence.
Federal prosecutors have shared evidence showing the plotters of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol used various social media platforms to coordinate during that day. Members and chapters of the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and Boogaloo Bois, groups all accused of taking part in the planning and execution of the January 6 attack, continue to leverage social media platforms to spread their violent ideologies. Despite public vows to crack down on extremist activity, social media platforms still seem to be unable or unwilling to stop many groups from new activity or remove older videos and posts promoting militia activities.
“It is abundantly clear that social media platforms provide domestic extremists with the ability to organize and trade intelligence,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of Digital Citizens. “If social media platforms didn’t alter their actions after January 6, what will it take? Waiting to take down accounts after a violent act is too late, and the platforms know that. But, they don’t seem willing to make the investments to protect consumers and the country.”
Extremist and militia groups have proven to be savvy marketers across the platforms, even hijacking seemingly innocuous terms and hashtags like “SavetheChildren” and “Patriots” to spread misinformation used to indoctrinate and radicalize followers. Also, the groups had distinct strategies that sometimes differed by platform.
Examples the researchers found include:
- A YouTube message from an Oath Keepers chapter leader titled “The Coming Civil War? Part 1”;
- A blank COVID vaccine card shared amongst Proud Boys via Telegram with “anyone who needs it”;
- Three Percenters sharing videos of military-like exercises, followed by comments in discussions from interested potential members;
- A Boogaloo Bois video called “Hostage Taker” demonstrating how someone could potentially take a hostage.
Militias appeared to have some awareness that less violent, more socially acceptable posts would have a longer shelf life on the best-known platforms – particularly YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But on platforms like TikTok and Telegram, militias shared more extremist and alarmist messages. On TikTok and Telegram, researchers were more likely to find domestic extremists sharing a capacity for violence and taking more aggressive political positions.
“Last month, the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter testified before Congress that they were taking steps to address extremism on their platforms. They made it sound like ‘they got this,’ but as we dove in and did the research, we found that was not the case,” said Eric Feinberg, vice president of content moderation at CSW. “The platform’s technologies are either inept, or the companies are just choosing to ignore a lot of content that promotes extremist behavior and thinking. The companies do enough to put on a good show for policymakers and the media but do not do enough to protect users. It’s not that hard to find and take down this violent content.”
A majority of Americans hold digital platforms at least partially responsible for the violent riot that overran the U.S. Capitol, according to a new research survey:
- Fifty-four percent said that digital platforms “bear the majority of responsibility” or some responsibility” for the January 6 violent attacks.
- Sixty-seven percent reported that platforms should be doing more to combat the spread of misinformation and hate speech.
- Sixty-one percent said digital platforms should create programs to share information on bad actors so they can’t easily jump from platform to platform to continue their illicit activities.
Americans overwhelmingly want punishment for the Capitol rioters, with 81 percent supporting prosecution of those who made threats, engaged in violence or destroyed property (as opposed to those who engaged in peaceful demonstration that day). The Digital Citizens survey of 1,353 Americans was conducted via SurveyMonkey on April 15 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.
Domestic extremism is not a problem that is going to fade away. It will take significant coordination among social media platforms and law enforcement to prevent violence.
Digital Citizens and CSW outlined three core recommendations for reducing the ability for extremists to hide in plain sight including:
- Hire More Humans — There are militia group members that trick the platform’s A.I. A human being trained to spot deceptive photos and search through hashtags can understand nuance and delineate between a dangerous militia member hijacking the term “patriot” from someone who is a New England Patriots fan.
- Consistent Platform Enforcement — There is no industry standard or consistency when blocking domestic extremist channels and pages. A QAnon follower may be active on Facebook but blocked on YouTube. Militias channels set up years ago might still be up on YouTube and Twitter, but blocked for recent activities on Facebook and Instagram. The social media platforms must identify complex organizations and ensure their pages come down across the Internet, rather than coming down on one platform, but finding refuge on another.
- Congressional Action – Domestic terrorism is defined in federal law, but carries no unique penalties. Congress must enact new penalties for engaging in domestic terrorism.
About Digital Citizens Alliance
The Digital Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization that is a consumer-oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats consumers face on the Internet. Digital Citizens wants to create a dialogue on the importance for Internet stakeholders—individuals, government, and industry—to make the Web a safer place.
Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical, and creative industries, as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at digitalcitizensalliance.org.
About The Coalition for a Safer Web
The Coalition for a Safer Web is a non-partisan, not-for-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to promote new public/private partnerships to facilitate the expeditious removal of extremist & terrorist incitement and instruction content from social media platforms. Visit us at coalitionsw.org. CSW uses technology from The Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center (GIPEC). GIPEC Worldwide is a cyber intelligence company that uses patented tools to interrogate the deep Web and social media. To learn more about GIPEC visit www.gipec.com.
For more information, please contact Adam Benson, Vrge Strategies at 202.999.9104 or [email protected].
SOURCE Digital Citizens Alliance