Extremists use online gaming platforms to spread their opinions – study

Extremists are using online gaming sites to spread hate and violence with larger communities, according to the New York University Center for Business and Human Rights, 

“A growing body of evidence shows that bad actors exploit basic features of video games and adjacent platforms to channel hate-based rhetoric, network with potential sympathizers, and mobilize for action – sometimes with deadly consequences,” the study reports. 

The study lists Discord, a gaming adjacent platform, as an example of a platform that was used to spread extremism.

How have online gaming site been used by extremists?

In April, it was the platform on which the leaked Pentagon documents were shared by US Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, and the company also shared that Russian operatives used discussion groups on Discord that infiltrated Minecraft through the software. 

In March of 2019, a 28-year-old Australian gym trainer went so far as to murder people because of the extremist discourse he partook in online. He used a semi-automatic rifle to murder Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, using a GoPro to record the massacre with nearly 200 people watching him commit these violent crimes.

Illustrative image of a person playing with an Xbox console. (credit: RAWPIXEL)


“His community of online gamers had long provided an audience for his racist and extremist ideas,” the study reports. “And his portrayal of the carnage as if it were a game, echoing propaganda and recruitment tactics used by Jihadi terrorists years earlier, laid a roadmap for aspiring far-right extremists.” 

Other similar crimes followed. In April of 2019, just a month later, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in California, live-streaming the entire thing. The report writes that during the live stream, a supporter commented telling him to “get the high score”.

In August later that year, a gunman killed 23 people in a Texas Walmart. He had shared similar ideas with the Christchurch shooter and wanted “to live out his super soldier fantasy from the video game, Call of Duty.” 

The study goes on to list many more instances of people taking inspiration from various games and platforms to cause harm to real people while “playing a game” or live-streaming to followers and supporters. 

The report explains gaming as more than just entertainment as many of these platforms facilitate conversations for people all over the world. These gaming communities are much more intimate than traditional social media networks and users are even able to comment and chat with others while under an alias. 

“A growing body of research shows that certain games and adjacent platforms are used by extremists for signaling, networking, and mobilization,” the study reports. “Discord, in particular, hosts an alarming number of active chat rooms explicitly promoting extremist narratives and violence, which can be located in a matter of minutes.” 

The study shows that 51% of gamers have come across extremism within multiplayer games in the past year. It also describes that these extremists have different tactics in engaging supporters in their ideas and beliefs: Designing games to push extreme beliefs, putting their own spin on existing games, using chat features to community their ideas with supporters, and using platforms to gather an army of individuals in support. 

Many times, people are able to ignore this extreme content or block the views they do not want to be shown or aligned with. However, sometimes these extremists are successful in converting people to their ideas. 

“But in at least a few cases, extremist actors succeed in speaking interest in their ideologies and bringing new adherents into their fold,” the study reports. “In the ADL’s 2021 survey, 8% of gamers who had encountered extremist ideologies said they shared the information with someone who might agree.” 

Eight percent of people were interested in learning more about various extreme topics, and 3% said they engaged with the comments. Harassment is also very evident with these extreme views and 36% of participants said they experienced this online harassment in the past year alone. 

Young people are very much at risk for various extremism within gaming platforms. Kids are vulnerable and aren’t always aware of their surroundings or consequences, causing the extremists to take advantage of their innocence. 

Companies today are working to further develop the metaverse, a “three-dimensional, fully immersive cyber world that they become the ‘future of the Internet.’” Billions of dollars are going towards its investment, however, companies are being urged to implement strict guidelines so that this new virtual reality does not get out of hand.

“As technology companies and investors turn to developing the metaverse, a more responsible industry-wide approach to addressing violence and extremism is more important than ever,” the study reports.