A troubling new report from a United Kingdom watchdog group has provided new insight into how far-right hate groups use social media to gain new members. According to the study, Instagram in particular has been embraced by neo-Nazi recruiters as a means of enticing followers.
The warning about Instagram came as part of advocacy group Hope Not Hate’s (HNH) annual State of Hate report, released on March 22. A broad look at the current spread of bigotry, the report included a section detailing how hate groups use the social media platform for recruiting.
NEW: STATE OF HATE 2021— HOPE not hate (@hopenothate) March 22, 2021
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“Instagram is emerging as the platform of choice for young Nazis to radicalize teenagers,” the HNH report read. “There is no question that it has become a hub for recruiting young people to extreme far-right groups — the only question is whether Instagram is ready to take serious action to end this.”
The report named two hate groups, the British Hand and the National Partisan Movement, who have grown their numbers using Instagram.
“While these groups also used other apps for their internal communication, Instagram was the primary platform of choice for their propaganda and recruitment,” the report read.
One far right group using Instagram to recruit is the National Partisan Movement, whose inner workings are revealed following an infiltration by HOPE not hate. This group shared extreme material on Instagram, and other platforms like Snapchat & Telegram.https://t.co/ZaJPK1lrD6 pic.twitter.com/TEyuTRSwmE— HOPE not hate (@hopenothate) March 23, 2021
An Ideal Tool For Nazi Recruiters
HNH said Instagram’s focus on visual media was an ideal for neo-Nazis “whose messaging usually consists of a few simple words and striking imagery.” The report also named the app’s Explore and Direct Message functions as ways that hate groups reach new members, calling the platform’s moderation “insufficient.”
“[Instagram’s] inadequate moderation and worrying algorithm recommendations are child protection issues that demand urgent action from the platform,” said Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate.
Lowles warned that the COVID-19 lockdown has strengthened online hate groups, many of which focus on recruiting teens.
“We have seen a slew of far-right terror convictions over the last year, and half of these have been teenagers,” he said.
Our team watched as the group recruited and vetted new members, and promoted extremist views including support for genocide, celebrating terrorist acts, and spreading vile hatred of Black people, the LGBT+ community and Jews. pic.twitter.com/SosQEtRwsZ— HOPE not hate (@hopenothate) March 23, 2021
According to the Guardian, a teenager who led a neo-Nazi group from his grandmother’s house recently received a two-year rehabilitation sentence after pleading guilty to multiple terrorism charges. The country’s youngest-ever convicted terrorist, the boy was reportedly 13 when he first found bomb-making instructions online.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old student Harry Vaughan admitted last year to 14 terrorism offenses, earning him a two-year detention sentence.
The report echoes concerns in the US over hate groups like The Base and the Boogaloo Bois using social media. The latter group has been linked to violence and death at Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has confirmed that they’ve removed a number of accounts associated with the British Hand and the National Partisan Movement.
“We’ve banned over 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook and Instagram, and will continue removing content that praises, supports or represents these groups. That includes content containing swastikas and other hate symbols,” the company said.
“Last year, we removed nearly 1 million pieces of content tied to hate organizations from Instagram and we’re always investing in technology to find and remove it faster,” the statement continued.