The internet is probably one of the best inventions of the last decades, in particular due to its endless possibilities of free expression, of communication with like-minded and the creation of our identities online. Unfortunately, this aspects seems like a double-sided sword: Because it also allows many extremist groups to influence not only the public opinion through fake news and bots, but also influence the life of many, often young, users.
Since I have played a lot of online games myself and know many of my friends, my family members or even the youths of the asylum seekers home I am working in, are playing too, this topic concerned me a lot. Online recruitment of neo-Nazi organizations? How dangerous can these people be and how can we protect us, or even more vulnerable people?
In an open round of questions on reddit.com, Christian Picciolini talked openly about his past as a former leader of an American white supremacist group, and inner alia, he mentioned how these group specifically approach vulnerable people from social fringe groups. This happens in online forums, such as depression support groups, as well as in online multiplayer games. Recently, online multiplayer games such as Fortnight, World of Warcraft or League of Legends have become extremely popular, with an audience of millions. Fortnight, as an example, was downloaded by almost 125 millions of people - Among them mostly young people and kids.
Video- and online games are political: Even though mostly missed out by sociologist or politicians, they certainly play an important role in the life of many today, and can have enormous influence. And there are games, which are more associated with left-or right-winged movements: While the strategy game „Panzer General“ is mostly played by groups of the political rights, „Counter Strike: Global Offensive“ attracts more members of Antifa or other leftist groups. These groups can be easily identified by political statements, explicit usernames and profile pictures. The German cultural scientist Christian Huberts criticizes strongly in an article the process of normalization of Nazi language, symbolic and opinions within the gaming scene. Even though lots of users or groups are fake or satirical, he states, there is also serious networking and organization done within games forums or websites such as steam.com.
Not accidentally are group games like football or multiplayers a gathering point for right-wing extremists: These games create something like a community plus they are only a „game“, only „fun“ and „not to be taken serious“. Football clubs are nowadays very aware about this issue and try to tame their right wing hooligans, whereas not many are concerned about games.
It is indeed very difficult to distinguish internet trolls and organized groups, what makes it nearly impossible to control and to censor games and forums.The gaming services seem overwhelmed as well as a bit unwillingly to interfere and to enforce national law ( for example in Germany it is strictly forbidden to show many symbols of nazism or promote it in general). The borders between bad jokes, satire and extremism are blurred, which makes it even more dangerous: Because it gets normalized. And this leads to the acceptance extreme right statements till the actual recruitment of new group members, even offline.
Is there anything we can do about it? Not directly, since there are little means to restrict the internet without rigorously censoring it ( which wouldn't be in our interest either). But as another of my report on Youthreporter about mental health in relation to social media showed as well: With the internet were highly addictively mechanisms introduced into our societies, unfortunately, we can barely avoid them. This is why we need to focus on media competencies instead of strict rules and censorship. Online media, forums and games can change the way we see ourselves, we see and think about others, even how we feel and how we perceive things. We cannot delete all extremist groups online, but we can become resilient and careful in how we led the internet and media influence our lives.
- The very interesting TED talk of Christian Picciolini: https://www.ted.com/talks/christian_picciolini_my_descent_into_america_s_neo_nazi_movement_and_how_i_got_out
- His question round: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/8umemf/i_am_christian_picciolini_a_former_white/
- The very populist and a bit exaggerated article of the Sun ( which has some truth though) https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/6677074/reformed-neo-nazi-reveals-how-white-supremacists-use-fortnite-to-radicalise-kids/