Donald Trump’s Twitter ban has been lifted. The US social media platform had, in the past, tried to distance itself from far-right radicalisation and disinformation. Now, under the leadership of Elon Musk, it seems to be embracing them.
Combined with a cost of living crisis, social media disinformation can become the perfect storm, allowing malicious actors to exploit fear, anger, and confusion to advance their own agendas and contribute to the growth of far-right radicalisation. What’s the best way to push back?
What do our readers think? During a focus group on disinformation run by Debating Europe, Luca pointed out that disinformation may play a role in far-right radicalisation, but also the system is failing to fulfil people’s needs. He said: “We measure wealth with GDP, but we don’t really look at the Gini index”. Are underlying economic factors making people more receptive to radicalisation?
To get a response, we put this comment to experts during a Friends of Europe event on far-right disinformation in September 2022. Specifically, we had a response from Sasha Havlicek, Co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to “safeguarding human rights and reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide”.
How would she respond to Luca’s comment?
We’ve been studying radicalisation, and actually working with individuals who entered into extremist organisations and groups (and have left those groups over time, so former extremists) for about 15 years now. And there are many, many, many different drivers of extremism; if you like, push factors are multifold. And one of the things that I think is very important is it’s very difficult to narrowly profile individuals from, let’s say, either a socioeconomic perspective, or a gender perspective, or certainly a religious or ethnic perspective. And, so you see people joining these movements for many different reasons.
But there is no question that disaffection, disenfranchisement, of course, is one of the grievances that extremist movements, and the subcultures that we’ve talked about online, prey on. The idea of being part of a group; part of a team; part of a special truth, in the context of conspiracy; part of accessing information that other people might not know. These are very important aspects of the draw for some people into these environments…
There are many different things that need to happen in order for us to be able to both identify individuals on a pathway to radicalisation and potentially violent extremism, and part of that is building the infrastructure offline within communities, within society, to be able to identify and intervene. And that has to really be built bottom-up; friends, family, schools, social services, healthcare services need equipping with the tools and with the training and the systems to intervene…
We also had a comment during our focus group series from Cristina, who wonders whether social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook should be doing a better job at filtering and preventing disinformation and conspiracy theories from spreading.
During the Friends of Europe event, we put this question to Fadi Quran, Campaign Director at Avaaz and 2017 MENA Young Leader. He made four points in response:
[…] Four quick points: the first is that we need a renaissance for democracy, and that goes beyond just fighting radicalisation but also rethinking the systems and the architecture of information around us.
The second thing [to] remember is we need [to] look at the broader systems: many people today live in fear, climate change causes a lot of anxiety; people losing jobs and economic dysfunction; corrupt leadership, and we need to also think about how we change our systems to rebuild that trust in society.
Then we go to the more detailed point which is social media platforms being amplifiers of radicalisation, just like you had parties at a certain point which were amplifiers of COVID-19, and the virus spread, social media platforms are amplifiers of the virus of radicalisation because of how they’re designed, and they need to be redesigned, and there are solutions to that.
And then the last piece is figuring out who are the bad actors that are manipulating both the dysfunctions in our systems and the failure of social media platforms to cause more harm and chaos in our society, and we need to target them and figure out ways to stop them from doing that harm.
What’s the best way to stop far-right radicalisation and disinformation? Should social media platforms be doing a better job at filtering and preventing disinformation and conspiracy theories from spreading? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!