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Unprecedented reach and rich online journeys drive hate and extremism globally

Richard SearNeil F. Johnson
Nov 2023
Hate and extremism cannot be controlled globally without understanding how they operate at scale. Both have escalated dramatically during the Israel-Hamas and Ukraine-Russia wars. Here we show how the online hate-extremism system is now operating at unprecedented scale across 26 social media platforms of all sizes, audience demographics, and geographic locations; and we analyze individuals' journeys through it. This new picture contradicts notions of rabbit-hole activity at the fringe of the Internet. Instead, it shows that hate-extremism support now enjoys a direct link to more than a billion of the general global population, and that newcomers now enjoy a rich variety of online journey experiences during which they get to mingle with experienced violent actors, discuss topics from diverse news sources, and learn to collectively adapt in order to bypass platform shutdowns. Our results mean that law enforcement must expect future mass shooters to have increasingly hard-to-understand online journeys; that new E.U. laws will fall short because the combined impact of many smaller, lesser-known platforms outstrips larger ones like Twitter; and that the current global hate-extremism infrastructure will become increasingly robust in 2024 and beyond. Fortunately, it also reveals a new opportunity for system-wide control akin to adaptive vs. extinction treatments for cancer.
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