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Far-Right Groups Are Moving Towards Encrypted Channels

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Far-Right Groups Are Moving Towards Encrypted Channels

PostAuthor: Anthea » Fri Apr 19, 2019 1:47 am

Far-Right Extremists Are Moving Towards
Encrypted Channels and IRL Meetups


In recent weeks a number of web hosting services have shut down several major online neo-Nazi meeting grounds, Motherboard has learned. The moves predate Facebook’s recent and total banning of white nationalism, but some of the services that have been shut down continue to operate openly on Twitter

One of the websites of Atomwaffen Division—a violent neo-Nazi extremist group linked to five killings—went down earlier this month. Bluehost, which once hosted the Atomwaffen Division site, told Motherboard the site was “deactivated for violating Bluehost's Terms of Service,” but wouldn’t expand further.

Previously, the same Atomwaffen Division site was using the products of DDoS mitigation giant Cloudflare, which has come under fire for protecting ISIS and neo-Nazi websites in the past, before it was taken down by Bluehost.

Cloudflare told Motherboard it declined to comment on users of its products and said it was committed to making a more secure Internet for all.

Bluehost also shut down the website for Radio Wehrwolf, a popular and broadly shared podcast among militant white nationalists, while Zencast—a podcast hosting service—told Motherboard it disabled the white nationalist site from using its platform to stream the show for violating its terms of service.

“Our service is a place for expression and we encourage free speech and it is fine to express unpopular points of view, but we do not tolerate hate speech,” said a spokesperson for Zencast who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from the neo-Nazis associated with the shutdown. “Our service is not a place for engaging in any harassing, bullying, or threatening behavior, nor is it a place to incite others to engage in these activities.”

In perhaps the biggest takedown of all, Fascist Forge, a Facebook-like site for online Nazis that spanned everything from shitposting to the exchange of weapons manuals, disappeared for a second time after violating the terms of service for Hostinger International, its web hosting company. Hostinger International was notified of its affiliation with violent white nationalism by the Counter Extremism Project, an anti-extremism non-profit network.

“Hostinger acted with haste—and very rightly so—in suspending Fascist Forge, an online forum that promotes neo-Nazi violence and radicalises recruits," said David Ibsen, the CEP executive director in a company release posted online.

All of the takedowns occurred in or around the last month. Some members of the far-right believe that the US government is behind the takedown of these websites, but Motherboard was unable to confirm this.

Weeks before a white nationalist killed 50 people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, one well-known Gab user connected to Radio Wehrwolf posted, “there’s been a large crackdown on many [neo-Nazi] media outlets” pointing to the disappearance of the Atomwaffen Division site. Another Gab poster opined “how long has [the Atomwaffen Division site] been down? WTF!! Fascist Forge, now this, damn it!”

Some of the shutdowns were attributed by the far right to companies attempting to distance themselves from an online community linked to the Christchurch terror suspect. But with the exception of Radio Wehrwolf, these site takedowns predate the attacks in New Zealand, leading some to believe authorities are putting serious efforts into dismantling the wider online neo-Nazi ecosystem.

The FBI declined comment for this story.

But while web hosts have seemingly stepped up their efforts to take white nationalists and neo-Nazis offline, they continue to be active on social media, including Twitter, while many episodes of Radio Wehrwolf continue to be available on YouTube. YouTube did not immediately provide a comment for this story.

Motherboard has viewed the continued Twitter activities of users connected to The Base (an infamous international far-right network exposed by VICE) and Atomwaffen Division, going completely undisturbed on Twitter, even as some users clamoured for an “acceleration” of race tensions and openly celebrated the Christchurch attacks.

For example, the most well known suspected Atomwaffen Division Twitter account, though locked to private members, continued to live on before and after those terror attacks, while one Base recruiter incited followers to join the secret network.

After Motherboard reached out for comment for this story, Twitter suspended two neo-Nazi Twitter accounts. Other Twitter users connected to those accounts have already noticed the suspensions and protesting by encouraging other white nationalists to meet and organize in person “while you still can.”

According to Twitter, the company expanded its plan to combat online extremism in 2017, outlining tenets against affiliation with violent extremist groups and general hateful conduct.

“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease,” reads the rules outlined by Twitter. “We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”

The broader conversation of what social media does to radicalize militant white-nationalists was highlighted once again in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks.

The terrorist suspect widely believed to be responsible for the Christchurch attacks littered his manifesto—posted on 8Chann and spread widely over Twitter, while broadcasting the attack in real time on Facebook Live—with numerous references to white nationalist internet-speak. His indoctrination within a wider online world of neo-Naziism became apparent just as soon as the news of the attack broke.

This week, Facebook announced that it would finally ban white nationalism and white separatism on the site. Facebook has pledged to use similar tactics and machine learning tools it employed to successfully dismantle the activities of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups using its platform on white nationalists.

Thus far, Twitter hasn’t done the same. While Facebook has said it will ban content that says, for example, “I am a proud white nationalist,” Twitter’s hateful conduct policy is not as specific, and the company declined to give specifics about white nationalism and white separatism when asked by Motherboard.

Previously, when The Base accounts were flagged to Twitter by VICE in 2018, several accounts connected to the group were taken offline but reappeared months later under similar aliases. The tedious process of eliminating those accounts is not unlike the difficulties identifying and suspending ISIS accounts in the wake of its online boom in 2014. That said, Twitter has yet to present any coherent strategy to combat white nationalism on its platform.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a terrorism expert and senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, carefully tracked the rise of ISIS online and understood the massive importance of Twitter in its development as an international terror group.

“Twitter was fundamentally important for ISIS fighters and supporters from 2013 onwards. They shared content, reached out to each other, and created a vibrant online community that thrived for many years,” said Amarasingam.

But many of the policy changes to combat ISIS on Twitter only happened after high profile attacks by the terror group. While Facebook has very publicly banned white nationalism, Twitter has yet to do the same even in the wake of attacks like Christchurch.

“Twitter finally took a real stance on kicking ISIS off its platform in 2015, and it had a massive impact. The lessons learned from that effort should and could be applied more forcefully to tackling white supremacist groups,” Amarasingam said. “These kinds of growing pains around policy choices seem to exist for a while before these social media companies take a real stance. Usually after attacks happen and they feel the pressure from governments.”

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Far-Right Groups Are Moving Towards Encrypted Channels

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Re: Far-Right Groups Are Moving Towards Encrypted Channels

PostAuthor: Anthea » Fri Apr 19, 2019 2:46 am

Facebook bans far-right groups
including BNP, EDL and Britain First


Years after the company first dismissed fears it was empowering extremists, Facebook has permanently banned a number of far-right organisations and individuals including the British National party (BNP), the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First .

The ban, which came into effect at midday on Thursday, extends beyond the groups and individuals specifically cited as hate organisations: posts and other content that “expresses praise or support” for them will also be banned, as will users who coordinate support for the groups.

The move is the latest in a series of crackdowns by Facebook, beginning in February when it banned the rightwing activist Tommy Robinson under the same rules, and continuing in March when it reversed a longstanding policy that had allowed “white nationalists” and “white separatists” to post on the site, provided they steered clear of promoting “white supremacy”.

A further 12 individuals and accounts have been banned by the site: the BNP and its former chairman, Nick Griffin; Britain First, its leader, Paul Golding, and former deputy leader Jayda Fransen; the EDL and Paul Ray, a founder member of the group; Knights Templar International and the far-right activist Jim Dowson; the National Front and its leader, Tony Martin; and the far-right activist Jack Renshaw, a former spokesman for the proscribed terrorist organisation National Action.

In a statement, Facebook said: “Individuals and organisations who spread hate, or attack or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are, have no place on Facebook. Under our dangerous individuals and organisations policy, we ban those who proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence.

“The individuals and organisations we have banned today violate this policy, and they will no longer be allowed a presence on Facebook or Instagram. Posts and other content which expresses praise or support for these figures and groups will also be banned. Our work against organised hate is ongoing and we will continue to review individuals, organisations, pages, groups and content against our community standards.”

The move was welcomed by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, who called it “long overdue”.

“These measures are a necessary first step but there should additionally be independent regulation, as well as meaningful financial penalties for companies who are too slow to deal with illegal, violent and extremist content within a strict timeframe,” she said.

“All companies need to be accountable for the material they host or publish and take some responsibility. We all know the appalling consequences there can be if hateful, violent and illegal content is allowed to proliferate.”

Facebook’s actions come the week after the UK government announced a plan to make Britain “the safest place in the world to go online”. In a white paper, outlining its intended legislation, the government suggested platforms such as Facebook should be held responsible not only for removing illegal content, such as the promotion of terror or child abuse imagery, but also for removing so-called “legal but harmful” content, including disinformation, cyberbullying, and content promoting suicide and self-harm.

In a statement, the far-right group Knights Templar International said it was “horrified” by the ban, and that it was exploring legal options. “Facebook has deemed our Christian organisation as dangerous and de-platformed us despite never being charged, let alone found guilty of any crime whatsoever,” a spokesman said. “This is a development that would have made the Soviets blush.”

The company’s decision to ban five of Britain’s most prominent far-right organisations shows it has moved a long way from its previous position on the groups.

As early as 2016, concerns were raised about the scale of the far right’s activities on social media. Britain First, then a registered political party, had used a combination of canny tactics and sponsored posts on the social network to push anti-Islam posts to millions of users, drawing one of the largest social media followings of any British political party. When queried on whether this was desirable, Facebook told reporters the site “is used by parties and supporters of many political persuasions to campaign for issues they feel passionately about.

“Like individuals and all other organisations on Facebook, they must adhere to our community and advertising standards, which set out the limits for acceptable behaviour and content.” It would be another two years before Facebook banned Britain First from the site.

When Facebook initially banned the organisation in early 2018 it was for repeated breaches of the site’s posting policies, and did not reach the level of designating it as a dangerous organisation. That ban came a few months after the group had ceased to be a political party.

However, according to a source familiar with Facebook’s moderation, the community standards will continue to apply even if one of the newly proscribed individuals runs for or assumes political office, since the company has a clear policy that politicians must follow the same rules as other organisations.

The latest bans come two months after Facebook designated the far-right activist Tommy Robinson – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – as a dangerous individual, deleting his accounts on the site and on Instagram. A month later, YouTube also took action, drastically limiting the availability of his videos on the site: they have been removed from search and algorithmic recommendations, comments are disabled, and users must click through a warning to view them.

The Guardian has contacted the affected parties for comment.
Who are the banned individuals and groups?

Britain First

As a fringe political party, Britain First managed to gather a large following on Facebook through a “motte and bailey” strategy: encouraging users to like their page with inoffensive memes about patriotism and the armed forces, interspersed with anti-islamic posts and political content. It gained international attention in November 2017, when Donald Trump retweeted a series of Islamophobic posts from its deputy leader, Jayda Fransen. That same month, however, it was deregistered as a party by the Electoral Commission, and received its first Facebook ban in March 2018 for hateful conduct.

Knights Templar International

A self-described “Christian organisation”, Knights Templar was set up by Britain First co-founder Jim Dowson. The group says it fights against persecution of Christians, but has often crossed into outright Islamophobia, and has reportedly campaigned for the delivery of military equipment to Serbian nationalist groups in northern Kosovo.

Jack Renshaw

The 23-year-old admitted in June 2018 to plotting to kill the Labour MP Rosie Cooper, going so far as to buy buy a knife to carry out the plan. He pleaded guilty to preparing acts of terrorism, but denied membership of National Action, a proscribed hate group. After a second trial on that charge collapsed, it was revealed that Renshaw was also a convicted paedophile, jailed for 16 months in June 2018 for grooming two underage boys online.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ ... tain-first
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