Let’s get something straight first. White supremacy is an international terror threat. President Trump’s denial of that fact should not be taken seriously. He just needs to read his own government’s study which states that between 2001 and 2016, 73% of terrorist attacks were waged by far-right extremist and 27% by Islamist extremists. That ends there.
What needs to be explored thoroughly is how terrorist hate groups are using social media to spew and document violence. The chilling nature of the gruesome attack in Christchurch by a white supremacist which left 50 people dead was mindboggling.
The killer orchestrated the attack in a brutal and meticulous manner in order to achieve maximum effect on social media. He streamed the killings live on Facebook. Since then, videos of the murders have been circulating through social media apps. Just before the killings, an account which belonged to the attacker posted a racist rant loaded with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, while glorifying the white race.
This hateful and narcissistic belief of the ‘superiority’ and ‘purity’ of the white race has been around for centuries However, there is one major difference. When reading these hateful ramblings on social media, you get the sense that it is coming from a place of deep-rooted and misguided insecurity. During the times of slavery and segregation, the white-supremacist narrative was based on superiority and power, whereas now, it is more about fighting back against the ‘genocide’ of the white race. These insecurities are being heavily tapped into online. The internet has allowed extremists to connect with people who are purposeless and disillusioned, in desperate need of some form of identity, which is why they are eager to take up a cause, even if it is centered around bigotry and violence. Racist content online may be brushed off by the sound and rational mind as just a bunch of nut jobs on the internet spreading rubbish, thus it should not be taken seriously. Big mistake. If the message is carefully marketed, and anchored around identity and violence, it is an extremely powerful force.
What we are witnessing is a global white supremacist movement, which revolves around the ‘white genocide,’ a fictitious proposition peddled by the alt-right radicals. Through their extremist ideology, they are hellbent on creating a racist and religiously intolerant movement, using social media platforms. They plan and structure their Twitter and Facebook posts in a calculated manner. Like any top sales company, these alt-right fanatical groups know exactly who to target online. They hone in on impressionable and fragile minds in the hope of recruiting them into their web of evil.
With all the evidence at hand, it is crucial that mainstream political leaders and social media giants make it a priority to tackle alt-right terrorist groups. For political leaders, it is critical that they clearly call out events like these as terrorist acts. Words and gestures matter. That is why New Zealand’s Prime Minister has received praise the world over for her sensitive and thoughtful response in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.
There is enough data to suggest that right wing extremism is on the rise, and it needs to be treated as a serious threat by governments across the western world. However, it is still Islamist terrorism that continues to garner more attention from the media and law enforcement. There is no doubt that global jihad remains a threat, but if we shed light on recent statistics, we will find that 49 out of the 50 extremist related killings in the U.S last year were carried out by right-wing radical groups. These figures should force the American leadership to reshape their dialogue on terror. Constructive and holistic policy need to be implemented in order to counter these groups. It is clear that President Trump’s denial of the alt-right threat is not doing the world or America any good.
It is also imperative that governments and law enforcement work together to get to the bottom of this dark and closed ecosystem in the social media community. For that, they will need help from social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. These three forums applied a tremendous amount of ingenuity and determination to target consumers. We now need to see the same kind of dedication and innovation from them to target terrorist groups. The fact that the killer could livestream the massacre on Facebook is extremely alarming.
The perverse and violent content on social media is now leading to intolerance and death across the world. It is not just a Western problem. We have already seen how social media applications in India have allowed radical groups to spread their destructive narratives far and wide. Being able to control online content will be challenging, which is why governments, law enforcement agencies, and social media companies make a concerted effort to work together in order to defeat extremist groups intent on causing hate and bloodshed.
By: Ali Gauhar