WASHINGTON (AP) – Social media posts are of a distinct kind. They grimly suggest that the CIA or FBI are behind the mass shootings. They traffic in racist, sexist and homophobic tropes. They revel in the prospect of a “white boy summer”.
White nationalists and supremacists, on accounts often run by young men, are building thriving macho communities on social media platforms like Instagram, Telegram and TikTok, evading detection with hard-coded hashtags and innuendo.
His sarcastic memes and trendy videos are angering thousands of followers on controversial issues such as abortion, guns, immigration and LGBTQ rights. The Department of Homeland Security warned on Tuesday that this distorted framing of affairs could lead to extremists violently attacking public places across the US in the coming months.
This sort of racist threat and ideology has become so commonplace on social media that it is nearly impossible for police to separate internet ramblings from dangerous and potentially violent people, said Michael German, who infiltrated white supremacist groups as an FBI agent, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. on Tuesday.
“It seems intuitive that effective monitoring of social media can provide clues to help law enforcement prevent attacks,” said German. intentions on social networks.
But, he continued, “too many false alarms drown out threats.”
DHS and the FBI are also working with state and local agencies to raise awareness of the increased threat in the US in the coming months.
The biggest concern comes just weeks after an 18-year-old white man walked into a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, aiming to kill as many black shoppers as possible. He shot 10.
This gunman claims to have been introduced to neo-Nazi websites and a live stream of the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings on the 4Chan anonymous online message board. In 2018, the white man who killed 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue shared his anti-Semitic rants on Gab, a website that attracts extremists. The year before, a 21-year-old white man who killed 23 people at a Walmart in the mostly Hispanic city of El Paso, Texas, shared his anti-immigrant hatred on the 8Chan message board.
References to hate-filled ideologies are more evasive on mainstream platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Telegram. To avoid detection of AI-powered moderation, users do not use obvious terms like “white genocide” or “white power” in conversation.
They signal their beliefs in other ways: a Christian cross emoji on their profile or words like “anglo” or “pilled,” a term adopted by far-right chat rooms, in usernames. More recently, some of these accounts have borrowed the pop song “White Boy Summer” to enliven the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked on Roe v. Wade, according to an analysis by Zignal Labs, a social media intelligence firm.
Facebook and Instagram owner Meta banned praise and support for white nationalist and separatist movements in 2019 on the company’s platforms, but the social media shift to subtlety makes it difficult to moderate posts.
“We know these groups are determined to find new ways to try to circumvent our policies, which is why we invest in people and technology and work with outside experts to constantly update and improve our enforcement efforts,” David Tessler, Head of Dangerous Organizations . and individuals policy for Meta, said in a statement.
A closer look reveals hundreds of posts steeped in sexist, anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content.
In an Instagram post identified by the Associated Press, an account called White Primacy appeared to post a photo of a billboard depicting a common way to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.
“It’s only been 75 years since the gas chambers. So no, a billboard denouncing anti-Jewish fanaticism is not an overreaction,” the billboard in the photo read.
The caption of the post, however, denied that the gas chambers were used. The post’s comments were even worse: “If what they said actually happened, we’d be in such a better place,” one user commented. “Let’s finish what they started someday,” wrote another.
The account, which had over 4,000 followers, was immediately removed on Tuesday after AP asked Meta about it. Meta has banned Holocaust-denying posts on its platform since 2020.
US extremists are mimicking the social media strategy used by the Islamic State group, which used subtle language and imagery on Telegram, Facebook and YouTube a decade ago to avoid a crackdown on the terrorist group’s online presence across the industry, Mia Bloom said. , a professor of communication at Georgia State University.
“They are trying to recruit,” said Bloom, who has researched the use of social media for Islamic State terrorists and far-right extremists. “We are starting to see some of the same patterns with ISIS and the far right. Encoded speech, ways to escape AI. The groups attracted an increasingly younger audience.”
For example, on Instagram, one of the most popular apps for teens and young adults, white supremacists amplify each other’s content daily and point their followers to new accounts.
In recent weeks, a set of these accounts have turned to Pride Month, with some calling for gay marriage to be “recriminalized” and others using the #Pride or rainbow flag emoji to post homophobic memes.
Law enforcement agencies are already monitoring an active threat from an Arizona youth who says on his Telegram accounts that he is “leading the war” against retail giant Target over its Pride Month and children’s apparel and merchandise line. promised to “hunt down LGBT supporters”. in shops. In videos posted to his Telegram and YouTube accounts, sometimes filmed at Target stores, he encourages others to go to the stores as well.
Target said in a statement that it is working with local and national law enforcement agencies that are investigating the videos.
As society becomes more receptive to LGTBQ rights, the issue could be especially triggering for young people who hold traditional beliefs about relationships and marriage, Bloom said.
“This may explain their vulnerability to radical belief systems: many of the beliefs they grew up with and held very firmly are being shaken,” she said. “That’s where it becomes an opportunity for these groups: they’re attacking and choosing very different things.”