Open Source, Self Defence: Tackling the Challenge of Extremist Websites and Open Source Tech

Author: Elise Thomas
Published: 28 September 2021

There has been a significant growth in ‘alt tech’ social media platforms which cater to fringe and far right actors. In this research, ISD set out to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to analyse whether there is a similar rise in the use of ‘alt tech’ tools and services for building extremist websites, focusing on far right and white nationalist extremist groups.

ISD found that the majority of these sites continue to use mainstream tools and services to build their websites, but in a strategic way. There is widespread use of open source technology, in particular the open source WordPress platform. The nature of open source tools and platforms mean that their sites cannot be removed by WordPress or other open source communities.

While this clearly presents a challenge, it also creates an opportunity to move beyond the blunt take down/leave up binary which often dominates discussions of content moderation. The report ends with a discussion of alternative, opt-in and community-led models which could uphold the principles of free speech and the open source ethos, while enabling the volunteers who maintain WordPress to choose whether they want to allow their time, talent and creativity to be used to put an attractive face on ugly ideas such as white supremacy.

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