One of the biggest issues surrounding digital and online media is the use of platforms for harassment, hate speech and the spread of extremist propaganda.
Companies like Twitter have struggled with fighting this problem. It has also led to investors becoming leery of financing a platform that can be used for attacks on people.
All the panelists at this session, Countering Extremism Online from ISIS to Neo-Nazis, were civil rights activists. Dr. Ha Hellyer is part of the Atlantic Council, Elisa Massimino is part of Human Rights First and Simone Rafael is part of the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung.
Hellyer said that the public discourse following 9/11 has become mainstreamed and integrated into what is referred to as the “alt-right” platform.
The panelist immediately highlighted that Neo-Nazis were early adopters of the internet. If you were a young person interested in this ideology, it was easy to learn about it online.
Hellyer said that in the early days, people with these sort of political mindsets would have to meet in person.
This was effectively social suicide, as other people would see you participating in what most would consider radical mindsets. Getting jobs or making friends would be far more difficult if people knew of your affiliations.
The internet has completely changed that. It has allowed members of these extremist ideologies an area to communicate anonymously. Many use nicknames or handles online. This essentially allowed extremists to not expose themselves to the public while living a secret double life online.
The exact same thing could easily be said about ISIS who also use Twitter and other platforms to recruit members as well. The panelist believe that very little radical extremism emanates from mosques, and that the majority of recruitment would take place online.
The panelists highlighted the similarities between Neo-Nazis and radical Islamists. Both are non-democratic sociopolitical ideologies that ignore issues such as civil rights and contain very limited gender roles.
While the panelists were fans of free speech, they believed that one method of fighting extremism was for organizations like Facebook to censor their private platforms, which elicited some heckling from an audience member.
Rafael also believed that their needed to be unification among minorities. For example, Jewish people have long fought antisemitism, yet rarely stand up for discrimination against Muslims.