Hiding Hate in Plain Sight: Extremists’ Obscured Branding

Extremists often employ subtle coding instead of being bold and blunt, be it via tentative allusions, fashion statements, or references to cultural items, such as music. This helps them avoid prosecution. As far as content moderation on the internet is concerned, even where public, obscured text is very difficult to make out.

Extremists might resort to irony of religious or ethnic othering instead of more direct sarcasm, use novel combinations of symbols or allusions only known to insiders. Where these are identifiable, intent is often hard to prove.

Thus, content deletion or bans can at times hardly be brought about, even where seemingly funny statements alongside depictions of violence appeal to the youth or to less educated online users. Sometimes, posts making statements of positive reinforcement instead of negative fly-posting are seeded or pages of discussion created in a systematic manner.

Not everything can and should be forbidden. Sometimes, mainstream borrowings put out of context are less qustionable. However, threads of discussions where dangerous online comments and hateful bandwagonism are cumulative are problematic, even where the most viral contributions are secured by moderators.

Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
January 2020

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