February 3, 2023

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Racist and Violent Ideas Jump From Web’s Fringes to Mainstream Sites

2 min read

On March 30, the young man accused of the mass shooting at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo surfed through a smorgasbord of racist and antisemitic websites online. On BitChute, a video sharing site known for hosting right-wing extremism, he listened to a lecture on the decline of the American middle class by a Finnish extremist. On YouTube he found a lurid video of a car driving through Black neighborhoods in Detroit.

Over the course of the week that followed, his online writing shows, he lingered in furtive chat rooms on Reddit and 4chan but also read articles on race in HuffPost and Medium. He watched local television news reports of gruesome crimes. He toggled between “documentaries” on extremist websites and gun tutorials on YouTube.

The young man, who was indicted by a grand jury last week, has been portrayed by the authorities and some media outlets as a troubled outcast who acted alone when he killed 10 Black people in the grocery store and wounded three more. In fact, he dwelled in numerous online communities where he and others consumed and shared racist and violent content.

As the number of mass shootings escalate, experts say many of the disturbing ideas that fuel the atrocities are no longer relegated to a handful of tricky-to-find dark corners of the web. More and more outlets, both fringe and mainstream, host bigoted content, often in the name of free speech. And the inability — or unwillingness — of online services to contain violent content threatens to draw more people toward hateful postings.

Many images and text that the young man had in his extensive writings, which included a diary and a 180-page “manifesto,” have circulated for years online. Often, they have infiltrated some of the world’s most popular sites, like Reddit and Twitter. His path to radicalization, illustrated in these documents, reveals the limits of the efforts by companies like Twitter and Google to moderate posts, images and videos that promote extremism and…

Steven Lee Myers and Stuart A. Thompson

2022-06-01 03:00:11

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