CEP Briefing Paper: Misuse Of Online Services By Transnational Right-Wing Extremist And Terrorist Networks

(Berlin/New York, N.Y.) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has published a new briefing paper entitled, The Misuse of Online Platforms by Violent Right-Wing Extremists and Terrorists. The paper follows an in-depth study in 2020 in which CEP, commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, analyzed the transnational connectivity of violent right-wing extremist (vXRW) and terrorist movements in five European countries and the United States. This latest briefing paper provides a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the various online ecosystems that underpin and connect networks within this transnational movement.

Transnational right-wing extremist and terrorist groups and networks have developed specific online ecosystems which are an integral part of their operations. In addition to meetings and gathering in geographic network hubs, the online sphere plays a crucial role in the transnational functionality of the movement. This is particularly the case during the current COVID-19 crisis. Within this unorganized collective, individuals and groups feel connected by shared values, actions, and perceived enemies. The online ecosystem mirrors this variety and is characterized by a diversity in online nodes and different sub-milieus and distinct online communities, employing a wide range of strategies and tactics.

In recent years, a range of stakeholders within the tech industry have made efforts to counter the misuse of their services. The Christchurch Call for Action and the development of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’s (GIFCT) Content Incident Protocol demonstrate this. However, significant issues—such as the failure to effectively moderate online communities prior to the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021—continue to occur regularly.

Therefore, in addition to voluntary industry initiatives, government regulation is playing an indispensable role by requiring greater transparency, setting standards for moderation, creating legal clarity, and providing commercial incentives through penalty systems that enable companies to strengthen their defensive mechanisms against misuse by extremist and terrorist actors. In this regard, new legal developments such as the amendments of the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) in 2020 and 2021, the passing of the Terrorism Content Online (TCO) Regulation of the European Union, as well as the ongoing negotiations concerning the future Digital Services Act (DSA) of the European Union are crucial developments.

This briefing paper explores the current situation and regulatory developments and discusses the various challenges encountered by governments and industry. The paper concludes by giving a range of policy options to counter this threat.

To read the briefing paper The Misuse of Online Platforms by Violent Right-Wing Extremists and Terrorists, please click here

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