Moderating Extremism: The Challenge of Combatting Online Harms
October 12, 2022 12:00PM
The regulation of social media platforms has become one of the most pressing and contested global policy issues. From combating misinformation and hate speech, to terrorist propaganda and other harmful material, debates over how to make online platforms safe have taken center stage. Despite recent efforts to combat online extremism, many violent actors still successfully operate on social media platforms, disseminating propaganda, recruiting supporters, and inspiring violence. How can these actors––who face an increasingly disruptive information environment––continue to use the internet effectively to advance their cause? I outline a theory that explains the mechanisms by which extremist actors build resilience to content moderation by focusing, in particular, on a multi-platform environment. I show that when social media platforms differ in their content moderation policies, extremists adapt by exploiting inconsistencies in platform rules. Using data on militant groups’ online networks, archives of banned terrorist propaganda, and platforms’ enforcement actions, I show how a multi-platform environment allows violent actors to remain a threat despite growing regulation.
Tamar Mitts is an Assistant Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and a faculty member at the Data Science Institute and the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Her research advances the study of conflict, contentious politics, and security policy in the digital era, with a focus on political behavior and extremism on social media platforms. Much of her current work examines the online behavior of extremist groups, where she studies how the production and dissemination of extremist propaganda radicalizes targeted audiences, and how content moderation and platform regulation shape violent actors’ use of social media. Her work has been published in leading political science journals, including the American Political Science Review, International Organization, and the Journal of Politics, among others.