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Online games – a place for extremism?

3 minutes reading time
11-17 years
© photothek.net

Right-wing extremists and Islamists are increasingly looking for supporters on the Internet – including in the gaming community. Their goal is to convince gamers of their views. This happens in the games themselves, but also in the chat and forums of Steam, Twitch or Discord. Some young people are susceptible to such extremist speech and should be prepared for it.

Why do extremists use gaming platforms?

Video games are a widespread leisure activity. Young people in particular like to play online. Young people are looking for orientation, trying out different roles. This helps them to form their own identity. Parents are no longer necessarily the first point of contact. Some teens are lonely and looking for connection online. This makes some of them vulnerable to extremist speech. Right-wing extremists and Islamists in particular are deliberately trying to find young supporters for their inhuman ideologies in games.

The very direct and harsh language that prevails in many gaming chats and forums sometimes also contains racist, homophobic and sexist elements. This communication can lead to the spread of hate messages and cyberbullying. Some far-right groups, such as the “Identitarian Movement,” use gaming communities to spread their messages.

What does extremism look like in online games?

Extremists usually play inconspicuously in popular games, while scattering individual racist or ideological statements in the chat. That’s how they test to see if anyone responds. If that’s the case, they send them links or invitations via groups on social networks, messenger apps, or forums. In these mostly closed groups, extremist content is shared and new followers are gained in this way. In some cases, extremists try to make direct contact with young people in private chats in games or forums. This is especially dangerous when young people are lonely and grateful for contact, especially with older and more experienced players.

Moreover, in addition to direct access to gamers in games or forums, extremists use elements from the gaming community for their propaganda. For example, the popular first-person shooter Call of Duty, which realistically depicts acts of war, has been used by the terrorist organization IS to recruit gamers. They advertised that young people in IS could make the game a reality. Thus, gamers could continue playing not only there, as after death in the game, but in paradise.

What are platforms like Steam or Discord doing about it?

It is important to know that many extremist contents violate applicable laws and are harmful to minors or even punishable by law. As is the case everywhere on the Internet, platform operators or service providers often do not react until such content is reported to them.

In the major social networks such as Facebook or YouTube, propaganda by extremists is usually deleted directly by the operators. With smaller services, such as Steam, Twitch or Discord, which are often used by the gaming community, this is often not so easy. As a result, extremist content is spread time and again.

There are isolated mechanisms in games, on gaming platforms and forums that are intended to make things difficult for extremists, such as word filters or the possibility of reporting problematic users. But these mechanisms can be easily circumvented and rarely lead to the prevention of extremist speech.

What can you do to protect your child?

The most important thing is to talk to your child and take an interest in the game world he or she is in. Ask your child what they experience in online games and who they interact with. Be open and listen when your child tells you about it. Make your child aware that there are also people in games and on gaming platforms who have bad intentions and want to persuade them to do bad things.

If you see signs of your child’s exposure to extremist speech, talk to him or her and seek help. An overview of contact points is available from the Federal Agency for Civic Education. In particularly serious cases, you should contact the police. This can also be done on the Internet via the online guards.

If you notice extremist content with inciting or war-glorifying statements in forums or social networks, you can also report them to the Internet Complaints Office.

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