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British neo-Nazi groups woo young recruits on Instagram

Image credit: Anton Garin/Dreamstime

Instagram has increasingly become a hub for young neo-Nazis to recruit young people into far-right groups, a report from an anti-racism group has warned.

According to the report published by campaign group Hope Not Hate (HNH), Instagram’s recommendations-driven platform and focus on visual media make it ideal for spreading propaganda.

“Though we continue to warn about niche platforms like Telegram, a fertile recruitment ground for young neo-Nazis has been Instagram,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of HNH. “Its inadequate moderation and worrying algorithm recommendations are child protection issues that demand urgent action from the platform.”

So far, the group has identified two far-right groups active in the UK – The British Hand and the National Partisan Movement – who have used Instagram to recruit members, while using other messaging apps, such as Telegram, to communicate with each other. Three alleged members of The British Hand, who are all teenage boys, are facing trial on terrorism charges.

HNH’s annual 'State of Hate' report published on Monday (22 March) found the Covid-19 pandemic has speeded up the move of the British far-right from the streets to online. It said a younger, digital generation – who exploit technology to promote their ideology through gaming, voice chats via social media, online film clubs and even home schooling – has left older, traditional groups behind.

“The lockdown has had a profound effect on every part of our society, and it’s no less the case on the far-right. Traditional organisations were already on the decline, but lockdown exacerbated their inactivity,” said Lowles.

He said digital platforms now lead the British far-right and reflect online culture. “Traditional structures have given way to social media platforms, influencers and ‘citizen journalists’ creating peer-to-peer radicalisation and a global community willing to crowd-source ‘micro-donations’ of time and effort.

“The new organisations and collectives that are emerging understand how to operate in this decentralised, self-directed environment,” he further explained. “We have seen a slew of far-right terror convictions over the last year, and half of these have been teenagers.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook company spokesperson said: “We do not want hate on our platform and we removed a number of accounts belonging to The British Hand and National Partisan Movement before this report was published.

“We’ve banned over 250 white supremacist organisations from Facebook and Instagram, and will continue removing content that praises, supports, or represents these groups. That includes content containing swastikas and other hate symbols.”

Facebook added that last year the platform removed nearly one million pieces of content tied to hate organisations from Instagram. It also said the firm was continuously investing in technology to find and remove it faster.

Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist, who led a neo-Nazi cell from his grandmother’s house, was handed a two-year rehabilitation order last month after pleading guilty to 12 offences, including two of dissemination of terrorist documents and 10 of possession of terrorist material.

The boy from south-east Cornwall, who cannot be named, was just 13 when he first got hold of instructions for explosives. And while sentencing him at the Old Bailey, Judge Mark Dennis QC told him: “You entered an online world of wicked prejudice and violent bigotry which has no place in a civilised society.”

Last November, E&T reviewed Talia Lavin’s book ‘Culture Warlords – My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy’ whereby the former fact-checker for The New York Times, and a proud Jewish woman, immersed herself in the world of her tormentors for a year, mapping a blueprint of all the online places where white supremacists, white nationalists, and Christian extremists across the US thrive and multiply.

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