Inside the Digital Labyrinth: Right-Wing Extremist Strategies of Decentralisation on the Internet & Possible Countermeasures
Authors: Dominik Hammer, Lea Gerster & Christian Schwieter
Published: 10 February 2023
This is a translation of a report first published in German on 1 February 2023 under the title “Im digitalen Labyrinth: Rechtsextreme Strategien der Dezentralisierung im Netz und mögliche Gegenmaßnahmen”.
In response to the increased deletion of hate content and conspiracy theorist accounts on YouTube and other mainstream sites, right-wing extremist actors are increasingly migrating to decentralised video platforms such as Odysee and PeerTube. What does this mean for the fight against right-wing extremism on the internet?
This report presents the central findings of the project “Countering Radicalisation in Right-Wing Extremist Online Subcultures” from 2022. In particular, the different ideological and technological foundations of the video platforms Odysee and PeerTube are compared and contrasted. In addition, possible approaches to self-regulation and moderation of decentralised platforms are presented.
The key findings at a glance:
- Neither Odysee, nor PeerTube are solely right-wing extremist platforms. However, the technology used and affordances offered by these video services makes them attractive for right-wing extremist groups which are blocked on larger social media platforms. On Odysee they can monetise their content and store it on decentralised servers so that it is practically impossible to delete. Using PeerTube, right-wing extremists can create their own platforms (known as instances) that they alone can control. The content disseminated there can then only be removed by taking the servers associated with the instances offline.
- Analyses carried out on Odysee and of selected PeerTube instances showed that videos about current affairs dominated. Videos in the right-wing extremist and conspiracy theorist online milieu particularly addressed COVID-19 and the measures to control the pandemic, current geopolitical developments like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and different conspiracy narratives.
- Content that is likely illegal and glorifies violence was available during the analysis period both on Odysee and on some of the investigated PeerTube instances. This included videos that promoted holocaust denial, as well as clips of the livestream of the Buffalo shooter and videos denying the legitimacy of the attack back on 14 May 2022. This videos attempted to frame the shooting in a “humorous” way or contained disinformation about the attack. Additionally, the livestream of the 2019 Christchurch right-wing terrorist attack was available.
Implications for platform regulation
- In relation to Odysee, the question is to what extent the Network Enforcement Act (ger. Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, NetzDG) is applicable, as the platform is unlikely to meet the threshold of more than two million users in Germany. Additionally, Odysee most likely does not currently fall under the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) definition of a Very Large Online Platform (VLOP), but will still have to comply with the general obligations for online platforms. Related questions concerning regulation must also be asked about individual PeerTube instances. The concrete legal status of PeerTube instances presents challenges for regulation efforts as is not always clear whether individual instances can be defined as social networks in the sense of the NetzDG or as online platforms according to the DSA.
- While on Odysee there is a process for reporting illegal content through the platform, that is not necessarily the case on PeerTube platforms. Content moderation in the Fediverse is a task for the community as a whole, which can isolate extremist instances, for example, to restrict their reach. Here plug-ins developed by the PeerTube community could be used to make it easier for individual administrators to deal with extremist content and compliance obligations that are imposed by the DSA from 2024 onward.
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.