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Anti-Defamation League: Extremist content remains ‘easily accessible’ on Instagram

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Instagram is a hotbed for white supremacist messaging, extremism and hateful content, according to new research from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Researchers with the ADL’s Center for Extremism found hundreds of accounts sharing white supremacist and neo-Nazi content, including posts from members of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group pushing for a race war in order to prevent what they see as the cultural displacement of the white race.

Joanna Mendelson, the associate director for the Center for Extremism, told The Hill she has “observed an increase in extremists returning back to some of these mainstream spaces that historically they have been removed from.”
 
This leads to a “social impact that can be devastating on our society,” Mendelson said. “The ease in which they can access, recruit and radicalize is so much simpler when you are on mainstream platforms.”
 
Mendelson said in a matter of days, researchers for the Center for Extremism found around 500 accounts linked to white supremacists and extremists. Five of the main accounts associated with Atomwaffen were reported to Instagram, with four of those being removed, she said.

The accounts share Nazi imagery such as swastikas, hateful messages showing people burning the LGBT pride flag and propaganda promoting a war, according to the study.

The public accounts can have up to 10,000 followers, and many of them appear connected, ADL said.

“When looking at the publicly available network of these accounts, it becomes clear that they are not random blips of extremist content but are part of a cohesive community,” the study reads. “Many of these pages are connected to one other, following and being followed by each other.”

Hateful, violent and racist content has long proliferated on social media.

Instagram, which is most popular among younger adults and teenagers, in particular has struggled to rein in hate speech along with its owner, Facebook, despite banning speech that encourages violence or targets groups for their race, gender, sex or other unique characteristics.

In renewed efforts announced this year, Instagram said it would roll out features to filter offensive messaging and also announced its “Hidden Words” feature, which allows people to filter out “abusive” direct messaging requests.

But the ADL study published Friday shows many hateful and extreme accounts are still active on the platform. 

Mendelson explained that she found white supremacists tied to multiple extremist groups besides Atomwaffen, including the Rise Above movement.
 
“You can search a whole range of key terms that are endemic in the white supremacist subculture and find them on Instagram,” she said.

In a February blog post, Instagram argued it was doing everything possible to stop the spread of hate speech.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can to fight hate and racism on our platform, but we also know these problems are bigger than us,” the post read.

The Hill has reached out to Instagram for comment.

— Updated at 3:40 p.m.

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