ISD’s Senior Research Fellow, Julia Ebner, wrote an op-ed for The Jewish Chronicle (JC) about what she observed during her undercover investigation among online extremist and conspiracist groups in the process of writing her latest book ‘Going Mainstream: How Extremists are Taking Over’.
Julia investigated neo-Nazi groups, QAnon conspiracy theorists, US Capitol rioters, violent misogynists and radical anti-LGBTQ+ activists and found the common denominator among all of them: antisemitism.
“Initially, most of the antisemitic conversations were confined to the extreme fringes, the darkest corners on the internet or the most secretive meetings. Today, they seem to have conquered what we used to call the political middle,” she said.
Julia outlines the four trends that have favoured the spread of antisemitism from those hidden corners of the web into the mainstream.
First, she talks about the way extremist groups exploit grievances and crisis narratives in their discourse: “Today’s extremist movements have skillfully tailored their narratives to tap into widespread societal fears, grievances and frustrations about globalisation, disease and rising energy prices.”
On her second point, she follows up with the marriage of old and new conspiracy myths: “Today’s antisemitism combines old tropes with new narrative patterns that can be linked to current affairs and top news agenda items.”
Third, she explains how extremist movements have rebranded themselves through the use of gamification and code words. “The US alt-right has pioneered gamified recruitment and propaganda, which is now increasingly used by the European far-right, as well as Islamist extremists. Insider codes and satirical subculture references have been deployed alongside gamification to camouflage extreme ideologies.”
Lastly, she emphasises the role of social media and algorithmic amplification in bringing fringe conspiracy myths to mainstream audiences. “Countermeasures [to antisemitism] should include educational initiatives that allow digital natives and digital migrants to understand and counter subtle manipulation techniques used by extremists, such as the twisting of language, the exploitation of grievances and the hijacking of online hobby communities.”
The full op-ed is available at the JC.