It’s common knowledge that prohibition doesn’t work. Or at the very least, encourages the behaviour being suppressed. Force the alcohol industry into the black market, the harmful substance is ruled over by the mobsters and snake-oil salesmen who settle their issues with guns while customers are left poisoned or criminalised for exercising their liberty. When Facebook uses similar tactics, the extremists don’t just disappear, but rather flee to encrypted apps notorious for being a safe space for terrorist cells.
In a new report published by The Daily Beast, it was revealed that accounts recently purged from the Facebook platform have taken refuge to Telegram, an app similar to Twitter that’s used to cultivate followings and make public posts, except use encryption technology to maintain privacy rights. The article cites how staunch rightwing personalities such as Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos are reportedly using the app to maintain their online cults, a move which likely keeps the public uninformed, helps the creators remain unaccountable and only increases their victimised martyr statuses.
Over the last week, Facebook kept its pledge to curb misinformation and political extremism by outright banning “dangerous accounts” belonging to Loomer, Yiannopoulos, InfoWars personalities Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, white nationalist Paul Nehlen and even the notorious anti-Semite preacher Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam and the supported associate of the Women’s March. Before the impending ban, both Loomer and Yiannopoulos urged their followers to set up a Telegram account. “Instagram is going to ban me in minutes,” Loomer wrote in a final post on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. “Make sure you sign up for my Telegram.”
After the ban, Loomer singled out Republican lawmakers who refused to recognise their removal from the site. “My friends were my followers,” Loomer wrote on Telegram, insisting she’s being ignored compared to her “men’s club” colleagues. “Men only like me because I’m famous and have followers. Can these Republicans even muster up the courage to say our names?”
This was followed by a post from Yiannopoulos comparing his treatment today to the oppression of black people decades past. “Like John Lennon,” the provocateur wrote, “I take ‘nigger’ to mean any oppressed person. Today’s niggers are me, Laura [Loomer], and Alex Jones. And yes, my black husband gave me permission to say that. If Breitbart still had any balls, it would be calling for mass civil disobedience.”
What’s ironic is these figures, known for spreading misinformation and inciting violence against Muslims, have fled to an app terrorism and intelligence experts consider the “app of choice” for terrorist cells causing deadly civil disobedience, such as ISIS. Several radicalised jihadists reportedly used the platform to both recruit and spread propaganda in the lead up to terrorist plots, such as the 2015 attack on Paris, the 2016 attack on Berlin’s Christmas market and most recently the attack on New Year’s Eve in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, which reportedly involved direct commands from an ISIS sub-leader based in Raqqa. Seems awfully ironic for anti-Muslim personalities to take comfort in the digital safe spaces of the very terrorists they criticise.
The messaging app, which launched in 2013 under brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, has prided itself on preserving user privacy through the use of encryption and “self-destructing message” technology. While these are noble goals of an online platform, considering big tech institutions have countless scandals on surveillance and data-harvesting, Telegram goes to the extreme of hiding the information of a claimed 200 million user base when there might be credible instances for investigation.
It was only in 2017 did the app agree to provide the Russian government with information about terrorist links following evidence from the Federal Security Service (FSB). There’s no doubt far-right personas can abuse this system as an unaccountable means, whether it’s praying for the death of migrant crossers or advocacy for that “total and complete shutdown” on Muslim immigration. While these personalities are forced to partake in far less convenient apps, which require sign-in to view posts, the inability to see their conduct without conditions is troubling to those against fascist-aligned movements.
That said, the mainstream abilities of fascists to rise to power is a contributing factor in white nationalist terrorism. Recent data shows white supremacist terror is by far the most common form in modern America, whether it’s how their propaganda efforts have increased by 182% since last year, the rallies increasing to 91 compared to last year’s 76 or their attacks reaching 50 this year alone, a staggering 35% increase from the previous year.
Angelo Carusone, president of the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters, told The Washington Post: “The timing is never an accident. The reality is, people are getting killed. There are mass shootings and mass murders that are clearly being connected to ideas like white genocide, which are fueling radicalization. The conditions have changed. When you have these massive catalyzing moments that are connected to real-life consequences, it puts pressure on Facebook and others to look in the mirror.”
The tech industry can’t help itself in falling between two camps. There’s an overt behaviour of censorship, where bans are conducted in an unaccountable manner and personalities are kicked off the platform without a means of redemption. By contrast, Telegram is the digital libertarian world of unrestricted tolerance, which happens to include enabling the intolerant in their violent or hateful schemes.
Loomer and Yiannopoulos are simply joining the company of Andrew Anglin, the founder of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, who joined the platform after his criticisms against Discord. The Daily Beast also reports that members of the Proud Boys, a far-right gang banned from big tech platforms, use the app to coordinate attacks. Whether independent tech like Telegram can look in the mirror remains to be seen.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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