Neo-Nazis, terrorists and other extremists use the Internet to recruit. Websites, forums and message boards are cost-effective ways for these networks to spread their propaganda, to radicalise and recruit new members, and to fundraise. As social media giants ban their most extreme users, some will then migrate from more mainstream platforms to extremist websites.

Critics argue that taking down websites just drives extremists underground. There will always be spaces for the violent and hateful to gather online, from encrypted messaging apps to the dark web. If those spaces are public, there may be pressure to moderate their discourse (or, at the very least, it will be easier for researchers to keep tabs on what they are saying and how they are organising).

Want to learn more about the consequences of banning extremist websites? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Maia, who says: “If any site promotes war, death, violence, destruction, harm and suffering of others as something good, it needs to be banned, because it is encouraging criminal acts.”

To get a response, we spoke to André Taubert from LEGATO, which offers counselling and advice services in Hamburg for religious-based radicalisation. What would he say to Maia?

I think the question is rather: Can we wind back time? Can we wind back the way communications and the Internet have developed? I think that’s the question that has to be asked. Because we might be able to ban some propaganda videos and websites, but it might never be possible to ban them all unless we want to have a society like North Korea’s.

If it were possible to wind back time and ban these propaganda videos and websites, then it might be positive for the development of young people. Because this propaganda is often very professionally developed, and it tries to change people’s views on violence by manipulating feelings and emotions. So, it would be better if they never encountered it.

However, since we can’t wind back time and we can’t wind back the development of the Internet and the role of the Internet, we should rather be much better in training young people to understand their own emotions when they watch propaganda. To understand how radicalisation functions, how does it work? The question I often ask young people is: When did you radicalise yourself and why? And how did it feel? And what helped you to stop?

Because I think everyone radicalises themselves at one time or another in their lives. Maybe we radicalise every day in small moments, and the better we understand what happens in those moments the better we are prepared not to be open to violence.

For another perspective, we put the same comment to Alex Agius Saliba, a Maltese social democratic MEP. How would he respond?

This is a very sensitive topic, and I think that citizens have become more aware of content moderation and content control online, and basically the actions these big tech giants are taking to control what we see and what we don’t see, since the Capitol Hill incident and since we saw an ex-President of one of the most powerful countries in the world banned from a number of platforms. Even though a lot of citizens, including myself, don’t agree with 98% of what Donald Trump used to say, we can still question the decisions that these big tech giants are unilaterally taking.

So, I think that the starting point should be transparency. People need to have trust in the system, and to do that they need to know why decisions are being taken. We need to give more visibility to how and why decisions about removing content are taken online.

Finally, we also put Maia’s comment to Moritz Körner, a German liberal MEP. What would he say?

That’s a very tricky question, because we can definitely see the negative impact of hate speech and websites like the ones Maia mentions. However, we also have to consider that we have freedom of speech which is, I would say, a very important European value.

What we are trying to regulate right now (and I would say this is also the position of the European Parliament) is that we should be able to ban illegal content. If a website is promoting illegal content, such as content calling for murder or something like that, then you could ban this website.

However, there is also so-called harmful content, like fake news and other things where we really have to think whether we should ban this. I think the line should be if there’s something illegal and when there’s a clear criteria over why this content is illegal. When it comes to harmful content, it’s more difficult to know where to draw the line. So, I think we should regulate illegal content and if social media platforms for themselves have other rules on harmful content then they should define those rules very clearly in their terms and conditions. And, if user content is taken down, I think there should be a clear way as a user or citizen to complain and a mechanism to do that. I think that’s the best way to remove illegal content but preserve freedom of speech.

Can shutting down extremist websites prevent violence? Or would that just drive them onto encrypted messaging apps and the dark web? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) Srinivasan.Clicks

70 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    What about liberal extremists? Those have far more powerful propaganda apparatuses and full control over the media

  2. avatar

    All extremist mass media newspapers, tv stations, radios sutting down. Especially those that promote conflicts and discrimination and fighting peace. Websites aren’t significant

    • avatar

      Γεώργιος Δανιηλίδης corect!

    • avatar

      Γεώργιος Δανιηλίδης and who is going to decide which ones are to be shut down? This will only lead to tyranny and eventually to camps… China and North Korea apply the same principles… Scotland and Canada are heading in that direction with their anti speech laws…Will we ever learn from the past?

  3. avatar

    Woke (extremism) propaganda, ANTIFA, BLM, etc. are equally dangers, and there you remain silent?

  4. avatar

    We see how selective are big tech to silence people amd groups. Same the governments based on current situation make choices. But shutting down one or another channel does not change much, as in today’s world there are different communication channels and it is impossible to shut down all. I think the focus should be to work with audience and to explain and convince rather than just to forbid.

  5. avatar

    So easy to be branded an extremist. Very convenient for the governments

    • avatar

      Karolis Girdauskas while that’s definitely true, it’s no argument for racist & anti-lgbt groups.Which I assume is the big topic in this article.

    • avatar

      “Racism” is a buzzword and the other is a subversive, corporate American identity

    • avatar

      Kevain Vermeulen who cares about anti-whatever groups?free speech is also speech you don’t likewe’ve seen how easy in Scotland for instance it is to fine and even jail someone for speechbit closer to home than for instance North Korea or China and it’s always, always a bad ideapeople have this misconception that speech leads to violence or even worse, some equate speech to violence BUT violence happens when speech stops, every single time anyone has tried to impede free speech

    • avatar

      Seger Swerts iemand die in 2021 nog steeds, ondanks alle voorbeelden, zelfs recent en zelfs in het Westen, afkomt met de stelling dat het ethisch verantwoord is om vrije meningsuiting te beperken op basis van de subjectieve regel dat je niet mag beledigen… Sorry daar kan ik niet anders op reageren dan met een lachend gezichtje hoor.Ik zou mss ook met een huilende of kwade emoticon kunnen reageren maar ja…Ik probeer de humor in te zien van iemand die zo “verlicht” probeert over te komen met kennis van de “regels” omtrent een debat maar die niet de harde realiteit rondom hem ziet van zijn “ethische” stelling omtrent vrije meningsuiting.Ik heb u argumenten gegeven adhv voorbeelden, Schotland, Canada…Laat uw argumenten maar komen waarom dat gezond is voor de maatschappij.Of skippen we gelijk naar het gedeelte waar de “heropvoedingskampen” volgens u ook ethisch te verantwoorden vallen?

    • avatar

      Seger Swerts zeg dan gewoon dat ge het OK vindt wat er in Canada en Schotland gebeurt hé.Maar dan valt het masker wel af hé ;)

    • avatar

      Seger Swerts dat zijn geen logisch incorrecte conclusies, dat is gwn leren uit de geschiedenis, al dan niet recent.Hoeveel tijd hebt ge nodig om brandhout te maken van mijn voorbeelden waar het al uit de hand gelopen is, recent?

    • avatar

      Seger Swerts maar jongen toch, aangezien sommige zaken high profile waren is het tricky om de minder bekende zaken te voorschijn te toveren, tenzij ik u een hoop YT links met commentaar over die zaken moet gevenmaar ik dacht, wees schappelijk en zadel de mens niet op met uren aan YT materiaal wat in een paar regels te lezen valtman man, zo onwetend zijn en toch zo hard een mening hebben…sterk bezig als ge mij dan nog de lulhannes gaat noemen

    • avatar

      en dan geeft ge voorbeelden, verdwijnen de comments van Seger Swerts als sneeuw voor de zon…troll account of overtuigd dat het leidt tot fascisme of… erger… niet meer bereid om publiekelijk te verkondigen dat ie droomt van fascisme :)

  6. avatar

    Why don t you name islamists who are the most dangerous in Europe. Are you afraid to name the truth?

  7. avatar

    My personal rule is: I’m very tolerant, except to intolerance

    • avatar

      Like, “I like only those who like me”?

    • avatar

      Yannick Cornet Karl Popper’s tolerance paradox! Love it!!

    • avatar

      Ilya Kotlyar Hahaha not quite no, but perhaps i won’t like those who actively don’t like me? In other words, be and let be. At the same time, there is something to be said about actively not liking those who undermine the sustainability of this planet on behalf of everyone else. Extremism can be a bad thing if targetted at specific socio-economic groups (women, gays, whatever), but something could also be labelled extremism if it challenges the ‘unsustainable’ status quo (I’m thinking of the Isolate Britain or XR group for example, who are trying to shake an unwilling system and people into doing something about the climate, and being labelled as extreme while at it. As someone once put it, someone’s freedom fighter is someone elses terrorist..

    • avatar

      Yannick Cornet Not liking someone “actively” or “passively” – I don’t think there can be an objective difference between the two. “Be and let be”, “sustainability”: all those are principles which assume a certain “modus vivendi”. If there are opposite views on the “modus vivendi” – I doubt they can fundamentally be at peace

  8. avatar

    Don’t shut them down, troll them down.

  9. avatar

    Who define what “extremist” are?If i disagree with government mandates, trampling of rights and such, am i an extremist?

  10. avatar

    Bad idea. Too easy to be branded “extremist”.

  11. avatar

    Control freaks. The real violent extremist will do it covertly. This is just an excuse to control digital media. I am sick of censorship and control. I will be moving to decentralised censorship-free social media and the pods on the decentralized social network Zion. It is time to remove all controlling middlemen who profit from us and control and censor us for making them mega-rich. I don’t see why people can have access to books or movies with violence, horror and perversions but not online. It appears that the freedom of online information is feared by controllers and manipulators.

  12. avatar

    Very unfeasible to be even 1% as extremist as nato, which is a selfserving psychopathic industral military complex that is in eternal search for targets to bomb and kill.

  13. avatar

    The one side calls it extremist , terrorist the other side says free thinker , freedom fighter !So no dont shut em down but go in conversation with each other only then can you realise a livable world for all !!!If you shut em down you will only fuel them in their struggle and beliefs and then you create a path for war !That is what our history shows us and if you ignore that you have learned nothing and you deserve what you ask for !

  14. avatar

    L’UE est neo-nazie avec ses expérimentations géniques sur la population

  15. avatar

    Probably difficult as long as big sites like Facebook keep taking sponsor money FROM such organisations and spamming ads for such organisations in the faces of users.

  16. avatar

    Start with the videogames !!!

  17. avatar

    Yea shut down eu neoliberalism websites

  18. avatar

    Better shut down Europe parliament!! Much worse than a maffia house

  19. avatar

    Liberal sites should be shut down, they are the real extremists.

  20. avatar

    Maybe not, but it is something we need to do, since they are damaging for the majority of the population. Now, when we do that, they’ll disappear to the “darn net”.

  21. avatar

    So, communistic censorship, huh? And next who does not comply with The Party line goes to Siberia?

  22. avatar

    on the contrary everything the left has pushed to try and hold on to power including demonizing/banning/censoring their political opponents has only opened more peoples eyes!! this shows that they are not democratic at all.

  23. avatar

    Shut down the corrupt governments and extremists will stop.

  24. avatar

    censorship always leads to a dictatorship, why try again?you expect a different outcome this time?the road to hell is paved with good intentions :)

    • avatar

      Koen Gabriëls does that mean that you believe I should be allowed to say what I want about for instance the Holocaust?

    • avatar

      Jack Jackson yes I do, I don’t have to agree with what you say but I support your right to say it.It’s the only way to have a free society.And I like a free society instead of living in an oppressive one :)

    • avatar

      Koen Gabriëls what if my freedom limits your freedom?

    • avatar

      Jack Jackson are you trying to say that you want the freedom to limit what other people can say?if you want that freedom… you can’t have that you really should look into cases in Canada and Scotland what the results are of laws that allow the government to limit free speech for subjective reasonsthen take a look at China and North Korea, they have had it for a longer timeafter that, please give me an example of a country where you can still oppose the government freely but that has also limited free speech based on subjective reasons

    • avatar

      Koen Gabriëls I don’t want the freedom to limit what other people can say, but what I say could impact the freedom of others.

    • avatar

      Jack Jackson in what way would what you say impact the freedom of others?can you give an example because I can’t think of a single one tbh :)

  25. avatar

    Sounds like another way of trying to explain why we need censorship. Pushing idea’s in to a dark corner won’t make them go away… the only thing that happens is those idea’s can now fester in the darkness and become something dangerous. Best way to handle dangerous idea’s is to use strong arguments to show the world how stupid that idea is. For example censorship? Who becomes judge? Are we certain the guy sitting in that position in 10 years will still hold true to good values? Censorship is dangerous! Twitter is quick to ban Trump but the taliban, ISIS, antifa accounts all stay online? This EU-propaganda channel is a joke.

  26. avatar

    start with shutdown of all european goverments. Those are the biggest extremists. They are a threat to humans

  27. avatar

    Amusant ! C’est surtout l’extrême-gauche et les islamistes qui sont à craindre, pas les “néonazis”. C’est dire le parti pris de cette page.

  28. avatar

    It can atleast protect people who’re easely influenced or incapable of making good decisions by not allowing certain “propaganda” to reach their eyes.

    • avatar

      Jack Jackson no it won’t, it will just put in place laws so that any opposition can be silenced and convicted, after which you are no longer living in a democracy.And if you think you aren’t easily influenced by propaganda… you just got convinced to sacrifice your freedom just because you don’t want other people to make other decisions than you…I mean… really?

    • avatar

      Koen Gabriëls I’ve got no idea why you think I’ve sacrificed my freedom.

    • avatar

      Jack Jackson it limits your freedom of speech because you will not get to decide what you can say, look at what’s going on in Scotland and Canada with for instance comedians getting fined for speech.Prosecutors and judges ignore context and go after them.So yeah, that is the world we would live in if we follow your reasoning.Nothing good has ever come from limiting free speech, never in the history of the world :)

    • avatar

      Koen Gabriëls I don’t think you have the right to decide for me what limits my freedom. Because that limits my freedom, savvy?

  29. avatar

    Name a book burning that has ever been on the “right side” of history?

    • avatar

      (also, y’all super Nazis)

  30. avatar

    But but but the European elite loves terrorists. They import the bearded type by the truckload. ‍♀️ They want theocracy.

  31. avatar

    How to save democracy by using dictatorial methods ?Please, define “extremism”

  32. avatar

    Who are extremists? European governments locking down their own people for months for a flu, destroying their own middle-class people! Governments like Italy and Slovenia forcing workpeople to take a vaccin or loose their job? All those European countries dividing their own people in vaccinated and unvaccinated people and taking people’s freedom and liberty away to participate in cultural and social activities? Censorship against people and scientists that have different views than government? Whole of Europe is turning into dictatorships, medical tyranny!

  33. avatar

    Shutting down websites is less effective than foods and drinks that prevent violence, Gabriel says.

  34. avatar

    The foods and drinks must slow aging and increase intelligence too, Gabriel says

  35. avatar

    Better to ask why people choose to wake up or listen to “extremism” convenient for gouvernements to make some noise disappear: happiness is mandatory…

  36. avatar

    yes please bring in hard censorship, the only way to save humanity (and let the industrial complex rule)

  37. avatar

    ok shut down your site and every site of europe country because they dont respect human right

  38. avatar

    Ah ouais, les extrémistes Les terroristes… Les néo-nazis… Mais surtout tous les pères et mères de familles sur Gab et parler qui discutent librement de tout, sans mark zuckerberg derrière pour shadow ban tout ce qui vous dérange.

  39. avatar

    Over and over again the same populist questions to support some pseudo-liberal illusion and completely ignore the root cause. Ask instead – why someone becomes an extremist and how can we resolve the conflicts? Deal with the cause, not the symptoms.

  40. avatar

    Don’t recall there being the internet in the 1930s.

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