How ‘Echo Chambers of Hate’ on Social Media Fuel Right-Wing Violence

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An examination of social media posts by two recent mass killers by the Anti-Defamation League suggests that a global shadow community of white supremacists goads its members into deadly hate crimes.

Social media platforms used by white extremists have become “echo chambers of hate” that are likely to inspire more violence similar to the recent anti-semitic and anti-muslim mass killings in New Zealand and Pittsburgh, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released Tuesday.

“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that such platforms can serve to spread modern terror in ways that could not have been predicted from the early days of social media,” the study said.

Joel Finkelstein, the author of the study and a research fellow at the ADL Center on Extremism, focused on two fringe platforms used by the perpetrators of the recent shootings.

Gab, which has seen a “surge in ractists and anti-semitics postings since the 2016 national election, was frequented by Robert Bowers, who invaded The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last September, killing 11 people and wounding scores of others.

A similar site, 8Chan, was used by Brenton Tarrant, who shot more than 50 people in two New Zealand mosques, as a platform to seek open support from fellow frequenters of the site for his plans to protect whites against “genocide.”

Finkelstein said he analyzed more than 100 million comments and “tens of millions” of messages posted between July and January 2016 on both sides in an earlier study for the Network Contagion Research Institute, which he heads as director. The analysis observed an “upsurge” of anti-semitic and white nationalist rhetoric following the election of President Trump.

In his second study for ADL, Finkelstein “decoded” the language used on both sites with a machine-learning algorithm to show how phrases like “white genocide,” “cultural Marxists,” and “migrant crisis” formed a cohesive pattern that signaled efforts to rally white supremacists to violent action.

Tarrant, in his 8Chan posts, addressed his community directly “as if they were co-conspirators and tasks them explicitly to ‘do your part; by furthering the next mass murder in the conspiracy, Finkelstein wrote.

The extent of radicalization on sites like 8Chan is “deeply troubling,” Finkelstein wrote.

“The fact that Tarrant, like Bowers, references white genocide as the motive behind his criminal act raises a troubling theory that ‘white genocide’ acts like a virus on these platforms. It instructs recognizable and organized features of apocalyptic, terrorist ideology, including explicit calls to act on that information.”

Finkelstein did not offer any recommendations for restricting the hate sites, but he noted that mainstream platforms can sometimes push individuals from Twitter and other open Internet communities into “fringe environments.”

“These extremists hide behind what they openly call ‘free speech,’ but seem to know is simply a public relations campaign hiding violent intent.”

Read the full study here.

An examination of social media posts by two recent mass killers by the Anti-Defamation League suggests that a global shadow community of white supremacists goads its members into deadly hate crimes

Social media platforms used by white extremists have become “echo chambers of hate” that are likely to inspire more violence similar to the recent anti-semitic and anti-muslim mass killings in New Zealand and Pittsburgh, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released Tuesday.

“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that such platforms can serve to spread modern terror in ways that could not have been predicted from the early days of social media,” the study said.

Joel Finkelstein, the author of the study and a research fellow at the ADL Center on Extremism, focused on two fringe platforms used by the perpetrators of the recent shootings.

Gab, which has seen a “surge in ractists and anti-semitics postings since the 2016 national election, was frequented by Robert Bowers, who invaded The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last September, killing 11 people and wounding scores of others.

A similar site, 8Chan, was used by Brenton Tarrant, who shot more than 50 people in two New Zealand mosques, as a platform to seek open support from fellow frequenters of the site for his plans to protect whites against “genocide.”

Finkelstein said he analyzed more than 100 million comments and “tens of millions” of messages posted between July and January 2016 on both sides in an earlier study for the Network Contagion Research Institute, which he heads as director. The analysis observed an “upsurge” of anti-semitic and white nationalist rhetoric following the election of President Trump.

In his second study for ADL, Finkelstein “decoded” the language used on both sites with a machine-learning algorithm to show how phrases like “white genocide,” “cultural Marxists,” and “migrant crisis” formed a cohesive pattern that signaled efforts to rally white supremacists to violent action.

Tarrant, in his 8Chan posts, addressed his community directly “as if they were co-conspirators and tasks them explicitly to ‘do your part; by furthering the next mass murder in the conspiracy, Finkelstein wrote.

The extent of radicalization on sites like 8Chan is “deeply troubling,” Finkelstein wrote.

“The fact that Tarrant, like Bowers, references white genocide as the motive behind his criminal act raises a troubling theory that ‘white genocide’ acts like a virus on these platforms. It instructs recognizable and organized features of apocalyptic, terrorist ideology, including explicit calls to act on that information.”

Finkelstein did not offer any recommendations for restricting the hate sites, but he noted that mainstream platforms can sometimes push individuals from Twitter and other open Internet communities into “fringe environments.”

“These extremists hide behind what they openly call ‘free speech,’ but seem to know is simply a public relations campaign hiding violent intent.”

Read the full study here.

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