Community Issues

Study: Online Platforms Play Dangerous Role in Deadly Hate Crimes

ADL finds both Tree of Life, Christchurch suspects frequented hate-filled forums leading up to mass shootings.


A new study from the Anti-Defamation League points to troubling similarities in the online radicalization of the suspects behind the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, PA and the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

According to the ADL's study, the alleged gunman in each case announced his violent intentions online, and both "seemed to identify their fellow forum participants as community members who might share their propensity to commit violence."

The suspect in the Tree of Life shooting, accused of killing 11 people, favored Gab, a platform similar to Twitter which calls itself "The Free Speech Social Network." The suspect in the New Zealand attacks, which killed 50, favored 8chan. Critics say both platforms "are rife with white supremacist, hateful, anti-Semitic bigotry."

"Fringe social media platforms are enabling terrorism in a way that would have been unimaginable even five or ten years ago," says Eileen Hershenov, ADL Senior Vice President of Policy. "The research demonstrates how online propaganda can feed acts of violent terror, and conversely, how violent terror can feed and perpetuate online propaganda."

The study compares these online forums to "round-the-clock racist rallies," often pushing the "twisted notion" of "white genocide" -- the imminent destruction of the white race by Jews and people of color. This online radicalization helps to explain the origins and justifications for such shockingly violent attacks.

The study also found users these platforms frequently rely on coded language so that only insiders can discern their rhetoric's profoundly hateful intent, and that 8chan, in particular, was used by the New Zealand suspect to recruit others to carry out acts of violence.

You can click here to read the full study.

The ADL says the results of the study have been submitted to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. A report last month said the committee was planning to hold hearings into the rise of white nationalist violence.

An earlier study from the ADL raised questions about the best ways to combat hate online, specifically when it comes to moderating hate speech on more mainstream platforms.

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