An investigation released last weekend by the Associated Press detailed the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s research on far-right extremist entities on social media in Germany, which found that the groups still maintained a presence on popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. A majority of their accounts were “explicitly aimed at making money, displaying prominent links to online shops or photos promoting merchandise.”
Since then, the AP article and CEP’s study have also been picked up by other prominent outlets such as The Washington Post, ABC News, New York Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo! News, Miami Herald, Detroit News, and U.S. News & World Report.
CEP identified 54 Facebook profiles—totaling nearly 268,000 subscribers and friends—belonging to 39 entities that the German government and civil society have flagged as extremist. CEP also found 39 related Instagram accounts, 16 Twitter profiles, and 34 YouTube channels with more than 9.5 million views.
Speaking on the extremist entities, CEP Senior Advisor and lead researcher on the project Alexander Ritzmann stated, “They are the ones who build the infrastructure where people, meet, make money, enjoy music and recruit. It’s most likely not the guys I’ve highlighted who will commit violent crimes. They’re too smart. They build the narrative and foster the activities of this milieu where violence then appears.”
One example involved Kampf der Nibelungen‘s (Battle of the Nibelungs) presence on Facebook. Despite German authorities having previously twice banned the group’s martial arts tournament, the group has still been able to use the platform to “draw in recruits and make money through ticket sales and branded merchandise.” Other examples listed by the AP include:
- Click on the big blue “view shop” button on the Erik & Sons Facebook page and you can buy a T-shirt that says, “My favorite color is white” for 20 euros ($23).
- Deutsches Warenhaus offers “Refugees not welcome” stickers for just 2.50 euros ($3) and Aryan Brotherhood tube scarves with skull faces for 5.88 euros ($7).
- The Facebook feed of OPOS Records promotes new music and merchandise, including “True Aggression,” “Pride & Dignity,” and “One Family” T-shirts. The brand, which stands for “One People One Struggle,” also links to its online shop from Twitter and Instagram.
Though these groups’ activities do not appear to be illegal, they are associated with wanting to “overthrow liberal democratic institutions and norms such as freedom of the press, protection of minorities and universal human dignity, and believe that the white race is under siege and needs to be preserved, with violence if necessary”—potentially violating Facebook policies that prohibit “‘dangerous individuals and organizations’ that advocate or engage in violence online or offline.”
Daniel Holzagel, a Berlin judge that worked on hate speech issues and contributed to CEP’s research, touched on the matter and stated, “If you do something wrong on the platform, it’s easier for a platform to justify an account suspension than to just throw someone out because of their ideology. That would be more difficult with respect to human rights. It’s a foundation of our Western society and human rights that our legal regimes do not sanction an idea, an ideology, a thought.”