At least four technology companies have banned the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division from using their platforms.
YouTube is the most prominent platform to ban the organization. The decision followed reporting in recent weeks by The Daily Beast, which noted the terrorist organization’s YouTube presence, and ProPublica, which revealed that an alleged perpetrator of a California murder was a member of the group, and others. The neo-Nazi faction has been linked to three recent attacks and five deaths.
Discord, a chat website designed for gamers; Inktale, a T-shirt vendor used by Atomwaffen; and Steam, a gaming platform, also eliminated the accounts linked to Atomwaffen.
The group, whose name translates to “atomic weapon,” idolizes Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.
“Atomwaffen no doubt takes some of the white supremacist rhetoric to another level. The views that they articulate are white supremacists on steroids,” Joanna Mendelson, who works for the Anti-Defamation League, said.
The number of organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center has risen steadily since 2015, according to a study released last month by the nonprofit. These groups pose thorny problems for social media companies that must determine how to regulate speech while promoting free expression.
The seemingly conflicted responses by large platforms appear to pose an identity crisis for Silicon Valley executives. Mark Zuckerberg forcefully declared that Facebook did not have an impact on 2016 election before walking back his comments. The incident seemed to indicate that large social media companies are reckoning with their role in cultivating and tailoring free speech.
Some companies, like Twitter, have vowed to ban users who openly advocate violence against civilians. Others have been more hesitant to openly take a stance.
Fears about the reputational impact of censorship likely motivated YouTube’s initial hesitancy to ban Atomwaffen’s account. Private entities that gained their fame by ostensibly promoting free speech have much to lose if they are seen as censoring political opinions they disagree with. But what these companies choose to regulate, and not regulate, will shape their public image.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Dado Ruvic