It’s Harder to Boot Right-Wing Extremists from Social Media Than ISIS

Defense One
January 12, 2021

There are various reasons why. But studies suggest it’s still worth the effort.

Experts who watched the right-wing mob attack the U.S. Capitol last week recognized a familiar pattern in the use of social media to recruit and organize; they’d seen the same thing from ISIS and other terrorist groups. They say that the kind of online measures that worked against the latter will work against the former — but at greater cost.


Studies on the effectiveness of tactics like purging and deplatforming to defeat Islamic extremism show that pushing adherents from major social-media networks limits the reach and effectiveness of propaganda and can even change the nature of the group. But right-wing content is much more technically and logistically difficult to defeat.


Extremists of all stripes tend to share certain characteristics. A 2018 report from the Jena Institute for Democracy and Civil Society found that Muslim extremism and anti-Muslim extremism in Germany mirrored each other in various ways, including recruitment, mobilization, and coordination strategies — and even ideology. Both types of extremist groups nursed perceptions of victimhood, painted the other as antagonists, and blamed cultural pluralism for the rise of their adversaries. “This becomes particularly evident in their internet propaganda on social media,” the report said.


Right-wing groups in the United States have similarly become energized by depictions of social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and loosely organized counterprotest groups, often referred to as Antifa. These serve as a proximate and identifiable target. In the months before the Jan. 6 protests, far right groups such as the Proud Boys clashed in Washington, D.C., with counter protestors. In December, the leader of the Proud Boys took credit for burning a Black Lives Matter hung outside a D.C. church.

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