International white nationalist movement spreading on Twitter and YouTube

In June 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that white supremacist terrorism is “a serious challenge for the global community.” That same conclusion has been reached by other American government agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Counterterrorism Center, as well as foreign security organizations such as Europol. DHS has specifically pointed to the propaganda pushed by the international white supremacist network Generation Identity, the subject of this report, as motivating white supremacist violence.

At this point, it is well accepted that white supremacy is as significant a threat for generating mass casualty terrorist acts internationally as other forms of extremism. Yet, there is a double standard when it comes to how online platforms treat content produced by white supremacists compared to content by Islamic extremist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. For the latter, deplatforming is the accepted and, actually, demanded strategy, one pushed by the American government, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, and the major technology platforms.

Not so for white supremacist groups. Enforcement of bans on these groups and their acolytes is much more haphazard, despite their proliferation of propaganda such as the Great Replacement, which similarly inspires terrorism and argues that white people are being genocided in their home countries. Groups that push this idea, in particular Generation Identity (GI), are rampant on Twitter and YouTube even though such propaganda has inspired six mass attacks since October 2018. These included the mosque attacks in Christchurch, NZ, and attacks staged at two American synagogues, an El Paso Walmart, a synagogue in Halle, Germany, and two shisha bars in Hanau, Germany, where the shooter is believed to have been targeting Muslim immigrants.

It would be inconceivable for social media platforms to allow ISIS propaganda to spread and grow unchecked, but that is exactly what is happening with Identitarianism (the ideology that underpins Generation Identity). Research by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) found 67 Twitter accounts for Generation Identity chapters in 14 countries with nearly 140,000 followers. Those numbers do not include the accounts of individual Identitarians, such as GI’s unofficial leader and head of the Austrian chapter Martin Sellner, who has nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter, or accounts for GI coordinated activity, like Defend Europe, which has 27,000 followers. GPAHE found 25 such accounts totaling more than 400,000 followers. (All data available on request.)

On YouTube, GPAHE found at least 12 countries represented by 31 GI chapters with about 86,000 subscribers. These numbers do not include the large Identitarian presence of individuals like Sellner who has 69,000 subscribers, the hundreds of videos posted by GI adherents, or the number of times Identitarian proponents have appeared on other channels. For example, Identitarians made frequent appearances on the American Renaissance channel (135,000 subscribers) until it was banned in June 2020. It is impossible to determine how quickly the material is proliferating because we have no comprehensive baseline data from prior years. However, even in the weeks leading up to publication, the accounts summarized in this report have gained followers.

This analysis certainly undercounts the number of Identitarian accounts thriving on Twitter and YouTube.

Disturbingly, these platforms push viewers toward similar content on Twitter and YouTube and toward even more extreme content on unregulated platforms such as Telegram. Because Identitarianism is very much a youth movement, Twitter and YouTube serve as important gateways to further radicalization of young white people, particularly males, into white supremacy. The growth in the number of white supremacists worldwide can be laid at the feet of tech companies who allow this material to thrive on their platforms.

It is time for this to end.

Download the full report: Generation Identity (PDF)