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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Researchers see one bright spot as far-right extremists turn to private and encrypted online platforms: Friction.

Between the lines: For fringe organizers, those platforms may provide more security than open social networks, but they make it harder to recruit new members.

Catch up quick: The online far right is moving away from mainstream social networks and onto both right-wing-welcoming networks like Gab and privacy-friendly platforms like Telegram and Signal, due largely to the collision of three events:

  • Public social media activity left a trail that's been exposing the identities of a growing list of Capitol rioters.
  • The far right is exiting large social networks, either as a political statement or under force of a ban, as tech platforms crack down on extremists.
  • WhatsApp botched the rollout of a new privacy policy, confusing and worrying a massive number of users of all political stripes who then went looking for alternatives.

The catch: As the fringe right burrows underground, experts say it will quickly learn how much harder it is to organize there than on wide-open channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Here's why:

1) Every added step is a chance to lose a follower.

  • Having to download apps and go through steps to verify their identities is bound to dissuade people from joining, said Matt Mitchell, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.
  • And when a platform goes down — as an extended Signal outage Friday illustrated — it cuts off the intake entirely.

2) You don't always know who you're talking to. It can be trivially easy in some cases for outsiders to infiltrate private online groups — something not lost on extremists.

  • "We're seeing more recognition among groups on platforms like Telegram, Gab and MeWe that there are security researchers, law enforcement officials and journalists in these groups," said Bryce Webster-Jacobsen, Director of Intelligence at cyber intelligence firm GroupSense.

3) You can still be deplatformed even on private or semi-private forums.

4) Out of sight, out of mind. Experts say domestic terrorists face a similar problem that groups like ISIS have faced after being deplatformed: recruiting gets harder.

  • When images and videos are removed from more public platforms, it becomes more difficult for hate groups to draw in fresh members.

Yes, but: Research shows that when fringe groups are banned from mainstream platforms, the bans often push bad actors to even darker parts of the web, where the conversation becomes even more toxic.

  • That means that while far-right groups may have a harder time drawing in fresh blood than they did on mainstream social networks, the ones that do show up could be more dedicated to the cause.

What's next: The scrutiny (and channel deletions) now rising among the alternative platforms could create smaller and even more radical splinter groups.

  • "You have one fire to take out and instead you made 500 burning embers," said Mitchell.

Go deeper

Conservatives warn culture, political wars will worsen

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The verdict is clear: The vast majority of Republicans will stand firm with former President Trump. The next phase is clear, too: Republicans are rallying around a common grievance that big government, big media and big business are trying to shut them up, shut them out and shut them down. 

Why it matters: The post-Trump GOP, especially its most powerful media platforms, paint the new reality as an existential threat. This means political attacks are seen — or characterized — as assaults on their very being. 

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

UN says Paris carbon-cutting plans fall far short

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nations' formal emissions-cutting pledges are collectively way too weak to put the world on track to meet the Paris climate deal's temperature-limiting target, a United Nations tally shows.

Driving the news: This morning the UN released an analysis of the most recent nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — that is, countries' medium-term emissions targets submitted under the 2015 pact.