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Hate groups & social mediaHow online hate infiltrates social media and politics

By Adam G. Klein

Published 17 March 2017

In late February, the headline of a news commentary website that receives more than 2.8 million monthly visitors announced, “Jews Destroy Another One of Their Own Graveyards to Blame Trump.” With only a headline, this site can achieve something no hate group could have accomplished twenty years ago: It can connect with a massive audience. Looking at the most-visited websites of what were once diminished movements – white supremacists, xenophobic militants, and Holocaust deniers, to name a few – reveals a much-revitalized online culture. To whom, and how many, this latest conspiracy may travel is, in part, the story of “fake news,” the phenomenon in which biased propaganda is disseminated as if it were objective journalism in an attempt to corrupt public opinion. Today’s radical right is also remaking its profile, swapping swastikas and white-power rock for political blogs and news forums. The trappings may have changed, but the bigotry remains. Hate rhetoric repackaged as politics and housed in websites that look just like any other online blog can attract, or even persuade, more moderate ideologues to wade into extremist waters. This “user-friendly” hate community is joining forces in a way that could never happen in the offline world. Thanks in part to this connectedness, these poisoned narratives are now spreading well beyond racist websites.

In late February, the headline of a news commentary website that receives more than 2.8 million monthly visitors announced, “Jews Destroy Another One of Their Own Graveyards to Blame Trump.” The story, inspired by the recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, was the seething fantasy of an anti-Semitic website known as the Daily Stormer. With only a headline, this site can achieve something no hate group could have accomplished twenty years ago: It can connect with a massive audience.

To whom, and how many, this latest conspiracy may travel is, in part, the story of “fake news,” the phenomenon in which biased propaganda is disseminated as if it were objective journalism in an attempt to corrupt public opinion. My recent book on digital hate culture, Fanaticism, Racism, and Rage Online: Corrupting the Digital Sphere, explores the online underworld from which many of those false narratives originate. I investigate the lesser-known source of all this hate-laced “news” simmering in our public debates, helping to cultivate a distorted reality for its ardent believers and a fractured polity for the rest of us.