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A Few Words on the Politics of Combating Extremism in Germany

One thing I do is consulting in the political arena with research, reports, and recommendations to combat racism, misogyny, LGBTQ+ hate, and antisemitism in video games, gaming communities, and on gaming platforms. And, specifically, the instrumentalization of such tendencies by the far-right.

The case can be made that #GamerGate, the neofascist/white-supremacist utilization and amplification of male resentment against women in general and women in gaming in particular, was a test run that eventually paved the way for full-blown Trumpism in the U.S. In Germany, luckily, #GamerGate was never able to establish a comparably powerful foothold among its gaming communities. But, as we all know, Germany has a massive Nazi problem of its own, and lawmakers want to make sure that these people don’t radicalize players and recruit even more Nazis on game-related channels and platforms.

Alas, efforts and measures that make sense are wanting.

There are two major reasons for that. The German legislative body is, on the one hand, way more influenced by authoritarian power fantasies of its executive branch than they should be, for a healthy democracy. And on the other hand, they have a hard time differentiating between substantially different types of challenges that call for different types of actions and different types of actors.

For this post, let’s put aside the executive branch’s power fantasies—banning end-to-end encryption, for starters—and focus on highlighting the different types of challenges instead.

The first challenge is specific far-right-communication channels like Telegram or Gab, where extremists meet, plan, and coordinate their activities, from illegal to lethal. Here, the primary actors should be the executive branch, i.e., law enforcement. It’s certainly not a simple task, but there are many powerful traditional and digital investigation methods law enforcement agencies have at their disposal—if they just stopped complaining about how difficult everything is without unlimited authoritarian snooping power, and got to work instead.

The second challenge is mainstream social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook in particular, where far-right talking points—wrapped up in ready-to-eat bundles of racism, misogyny, LGBTQ+ hate, and antisemitism—are prominently injected into the public discourse. Here, the primary actor should be the legislative branch, i.e., lawmakers. They should pass laws and policies with severe fines and damage claim options. This should make it impossible for these platform holders to earn money through vacuuming up the personal data of entire populations, and then let third parties turn the nozzle around and target these populations algorithmically with radicalizing content. Basically, these should be the same kind of laws and fines that make it unattractive for companies to release toxic waste into our water systems.

The third challenge is specific gaming platforms and media channels like Twitch, Discord, Steam, in-game chat channels, and so on with their traditionally high amplitude of racism and misogyny. The more normalized these behaviors become among players, the more vulnerable they become to be nudged toward ever more extremist ideas. Here, the primary actor should be educational, informational, and cultural institutions to promote and rehearse non-discriminatory behavior for individuals and groups, in cooperation with platform holders and game-related media.

Of course, the primary actors for all three challenges could and should coordinate, and they should set up programs with clear goals and timeframes. That way, outcomes could be monitored and evaluated and the programs and goals revised if need be.

Alas, this is Germany! So what’s likely to continue instead to meet these three challenges is a never-ending stream of efforts to make end-to-end encryption illegal; make life hard in terms of data protection for everybody except Facebook, Google, or Amazon; and sprinkle gaming platform holders from time to time with complaints about some random dude’s swastika in their profile picture.