Setbacks online

Table of Contents:

As the alt-right grew in prominence, major online media platforms began to increase their efforts to decrease the movement’s presence. The comment sections of major news outlets were once an important venue for extreme right commentators. Any time a story in a major venue touched the issue of race even tangentially, the comment section underneath the story would quickly fill up with extreme right jeremiads (Hawley 2016). This trend actually predated the alt-right. In response to these comments, unmoderated comment sections became less common. To keep out these right-wing trolls, online news sources began moderating their comments, requiring commenters to register, or simply abolishing comment sections entirely.

Other online media platforms have also sought to limit the alt-rights influence. Reddit deleted the popular r/altright subreddit (Weinberger 2017). Twitter has more aggressively enforced its terms of service, kicking people oft the platform when they engaged in hate speech or harassment and banning some hateful symbols (Rozsa 2017). There are ways to work around this. As Twitter allows anonymous accounts, someone whose account is deleted can simply create a new one by using a different email address. However, rebuilding an audience and network takes time. A person who once had tens of thousands of followers will need to start from scratch after losing an account and, furthermore, is always at risk of losing the new account.

YouTube has also begun to pursue stronger measures to reduce extreme right content on its platform (Karlins 2019). The site has deleted thousands of videos. YouTube also removed several alt-right channels completely. Some far-right content producers who were not blocked from the site had their channels demonetised, removing their ability to make money from ad revenue.

The alt-right’s ability to raise money online has also diminished. Amazon has cancelled the affiliate programme for many alt-right websites, blocking another source of revenue, and it has also begun banning certain alt-right books. PayPal has also deleted the accounts of several alt-right groups and individuals.

The most extreme example of online de-platforming came shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Daily Stormer, perhaps the most visited extreme-right website, lost its domain registration and DDOS protection. For a time, the site was not visible from ordinary web browsers and could only be accessed from the ‘dark web’. The site has since managed to get back online, however.

In response to this, there was a major push within the alt-right to resolve these problems by building their own online infrastructure. The results of these efforts have been mixed. The alt-right’s attempt to create alternative online fundraising websites seems to have failed. This is likely because the technical and material challenges of doing so have proved too high.

The effort to create alternatives to Twitter and YouTube have been qualified successes. The social media site Gab and the video-hosting site BitChute function reasonably well. The important thing to remember, however, is that the alt-right’s success resulted from its ability to interact with the mainstream. For the most part, ordinary internet users are still using the larger social media platforms, not the alternatives open to alt-right material. Thus, the extreme-right online is increasingly back where it was a decade ago, largely isolated in its own spheres, with less easy access to mainstream venues.

Conclusion

Over its short history, the alt-right has been a predominantly online phenomenon. Although its use of the internet was novel, many of its strategies were lifted (whether they realised it or not) from earlier iterations of the white nationalist movement. The internet is unquestionably where the alt-right achieved its greatest successes. In fact, its efforts to engage in real-world activism have mostly resulted in failure or — especially in the case of the Charlottesville rally — disaster. Their success was largely dependent on their ability to interact with people outside their movement on other major online platforms. Major online media sites have sought to place stronger restrictions on what people can post. This represented a major setback for the alt-right, from which it has not yet recovered. The white nationalist movement has proven resilient, however, and it is not going to just disappear, even if it drops the alt-right label entirely. It remains to be seen how it will regroup and attempt to regain influence in the years ahead.

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