February 18, 2020 · Extremism Technology

Extremism: Gamifcation, Funding, and Viral Strains

Julia Ebner looks at gamification in extremism:

From the swiping mechanisms in dating apps, which are designed for you to playfully choose or refuse a potential partner, to the reward systems for Uber drivers, which show their progress, customer ratings and opportunities for making extra money — the idea underpins the growing experience economy.  But extremists are also early adopters of innovation. And from Isis to the international alt-right, ideological fringe movements have exploited gamification techniques to tap into new audiences. By tailoring their propaganda and recruiting in this way, they have been able to attract young members and raise their profile globally.

Gamification is probably too narrow and specific to describe how intertwined technology has become with extremism but we still need a gameplan for dealing with technology and the role it plays in facilitating and accelerating these networks. One way we'll know that we're making progress is when we see consistent review, red teaming, and mitigation at the design phase of new apps and platforms because bad outcomes, malicious users, and creative terribleness are accepted as inevitable outcomes that must be addressed before launch. We aren't there.

Sarah Jones looks at extremism from another angle in this piece about the Robert P. Rotella Foundation for NY Mag:

Of the $5.8 million the foundation has donated to various causes since 2002, roughly $105,000 has gone to organizations like the National Policy Institute, or NPI, which is led by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. A comprehensive review of the foundation’s available 990 reports indicates that its financial support for white nationalism began in 2014 and continued through 2018. Though $105,000 is not an exceptionally large sum of money, white nationalist organizations are small, and it doesn’t  take much money to keep them afloat. “Annual recurring donations are  kind if where it’s at for these guys because they all have financial limits, imposed by federal law, on how large the donations can be,” explained David Neiwert, the author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump.

Follow. The. Money.

On a lighter note, here's the great John Cleese on the advantages of extremism. Note the Venn diagram overlap on moderates.

Anti-semitism is another topic that is both a massive extremism vertical of its own and a view that is widely held by extremists of almost every type. The Venn diagram for this one is massive. It is truly pervasive. Benjamin Shinewald compares it to a virus, an outbreak with mutating strains, and I think that's a very useful way to look at it.

A These four strains of anti-Semitism – the deceptive  leftist strain, the insidious right-wing strain, the overt Islamist  strain and the unpredictable irregular strain – do not sit in airtight containers. Anti-Semitism is a live virus and these four strains are not  historical, they are just today’s variants and they are always mutating  and mixing. And they never, ever remain dormant.
...And as for the irregular strain of anti-Semitism, well, we are all just waiting for the next attack.
Right now, these four strains of  anti-Semitism are mutating into some new variant that we can’t yet discern. Like many biological viruses, today’s anti-Semitism is mutating  faster and faster and is becoming deadlier and deadlier. And like many  biological viruses, there is no vaccination.

There's no real hope of eliminating extremism but the goal is to limit its spread and make it survivable. It can be a demoralizing battle but we have seen what happens when good people stand down and humanity's worst impulses are allowed to take the reins. It feels like we are rushing down that path now. We can't let it happen again.

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