terrorists, and many other extremists, have used the internet for decades and adapted as technology evolved, shifting from text-only discussion forums to elaborate and interactive websites, custom-built secure messaging systems and even entire social media platforms.
Our research has examined various online communities
populated by radical and extremist groups. And two of us were on the
team that created the U.S. Extremist Crime Database,
an open-source database helping scholars better understand the criminal
behaviors of jihadi, far-right and far-left extremists. Analysis of
that data demonstrates that having an online presence
appears to help hate groups stay active over time. (One of the oldest
far-right group forums, Stormfront, has been online in some form since the early 1990s.)
But recent efforts to deny these groups online platforms
will not kick hate groups, nor hate speech, off the web. In fact, some
scholars theorize that attempts to shut down hate speech online may
cause a backlash, worsening the problem and making hate groups more
attractive to marginalized and stigmatized people, groups and movements.