Escape Routes: How far-right actors circumvent the Network Enforcement Act 

Authors: Dominik Hammer, Paula Matlach, Lea Gerster & Till Baaken

Published: 24 October 2022

For this study, the online milieu of radical right-wing and extreme right-wing actors was investigated with regard to linking to alternative platforms. The aim of the analysis was to make the cosmos of online platforms used by right-wing extremist and radical right-wing actors accessible to readers and researchers.  As established social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube increasingly remove illegal and extremist content due to (self-)regulation and legal pressures, many extreme right-wing and radical right-wing actors find themselves forced to switch to alternative platforms. In order to show their subscribers on the established platforms where their content can be found, many of these actors link to alternative platforms. This dynamic is problematic because the discourses of anti-democratic activists takes place outside of public debates and transparent structures, allowing them to plan actions, expand their networks and spread incitement undisturbed and unchallenged. Through the link analysis of a sample of posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, this study comes to the following conclusions:

  • The established social media platforms continue to host right-wing extremist and radical right-wing actors who disseminate their content. Some of these actors use the established platforms as “entry points” to refer to alternative platforms and thus redirect other users to this less regulated media landscape. In order to avoid deletion or deplatforming, such actors adapt the content of their posts to the respective platform. In this way, they publish “softer” content on established social media, often based on dog-whistling, and communicate more directly on the alternative platforms.
  • At present, no alternative platform has clearly established itself as the milieu’s favourite. This means that the individual actors in the online subcultures of the extreme and radical right have a limited reach on alternative platforms for the time being.  One exception is the messenger service Telegram. This platform is of outstanding importance within the analysed links to alternative platforms.

Some developments in the online activity of extreme right-wing and radical right-wing groups pose particular challenges for security authorities and researchers.

  • The study shows that alternative audiovisual platforms in particular enjoy great popularity among the actors analysed. Due to their data structure, content on audiovisual platforms is more difficult to analyse than text-based content.
  • Another challenge is posed by so-called fleeting content – content that is only available for a short time and is not normally saved afterwards (e.g. livestreams or Instagram stories). Due to a lack of traceability, it is difficult for platforms to effectively moderate this content. In the sample analysed, there were already signs that users have recognised this gap and are actively using it to share extreme content unchallenged.

Dominik Hammer is a Research Manager at ISD, where his activities include analysing far-right radicalism and right-wing extremism online. His areas of interest include democratic theory, the strengthening of democratic practice and the analysis of anti-democratic movements. Before joining ISD, his experience included university research and teaching, as well as adult education. He is co-author of the ISD research reports Signposts, Telegram as a Buttress, Detours and Diversions, and Auf Odysee, as well as the conference report In the Blind Spot.

Paula Matlach is an Analyst at ISD, where she studies the spread of disinformation and propaganda in German-speaking and English-speaking countries. Prior to joining ISD, she spent 18 months working as a researcher at the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, where she published articles on network regulation and foreign influence, among other topics. She is co-author of the ISD research reports Signposts, Deutschland und der angebliche Klimalockdown and Auf Odysee.

Lea Gerster is an Analyst at ISD. Her areas of interest include the proliferation of extremist ideologies, disinformation and conspiracy narratives in German-speaking and English-speaking countries. Prior to joining ISD, she spent two years working with think tanks and consultancy firms in London on projects aimed at countering online extremism. She is the co-author of the ISD research reports Telegram as a Buttress, Detours and DiversionsCrisis and Loss of Control, Disinformation Overdose: A Study of the Crisis of Trust among Vaccine Sceptics and Anti-Vaxxers and The Rise of Antisemitism Online During the Pandemic: A Study of French and German Content.

Till Baaken is a Senior Manager at ISD, where he investigates right-wing extremism, Islamism, disinformation campaigns and conspiracy narratives in German-speaking and English-speaking countries. His work on radicalisation and deradicalisation has been published in a range of journals, including the Journal for Deradicalisation and the International Journal of Conflict and Violence, as well as several books and handbooks. He is co-author of the ISD research reports  Signposts and  Disinformation Overdose: A study of the Crisis of Trust among Vaccine Sceptics and Anti-Vaxxers.

Editorial responsibility: Huberta von Voss, Executive Director ISD Germany 

This report was produced as part of the project “Countering radicalisation in right-wing extremist online subcultures” funded by the Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJ). The responsibility for the content lies exclusively with ISD Germany.

“Escape routes” was first published in German as “Fluchtwege. Wie das Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz auf etablierten sozialen Medien durch die Verlinkung zu alternativen Plattformen umgangen wird“ on 28 July 2021