- Anger over the Mar-a-Lago raid has led to an increase in worrying posts on mainstream sites, experts say.
- Anti-government and pro-Trump posts are easily accessible on social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter.
A woman wearing a red, white and blue beach hat faces the camera and begins to talk.
“Hello, TikTok. Nothing funny in this post,” she warns. Her voice quavering with emotion, she then promises: “I will go out in a burst of glory” rather than let President Joe Biden invoke martial law (which he did not threaten to do) and go after it. to “conservatives and people trying to save America”. .”
“She’s just in tears because of it,” extremism expert Wendy Via told Insider of the video, which was posted from a now inactive account the following day. the Mar-a-Lago Raid.
“It was on TikTok,” said Via, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “TikTok is the place, man.”
The same goes for YouTube, Twitter, and a number of mainstream platforms and websites where threatening and anti-government messages are now readily available, experts say.
These days, experts note, you don’t need to venture into the unregulated, porn-laden corners of the internet — your 4Chans, 8Chans, and openly white supremacist websites — to watch angry people throwing assault weapons and talk about overthrowing the government.
In fact, a large part of the resurgence of hate speech and anti-government threats that experts see in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago raid are published on mainstream platforms.
You can turn to TikTok and watch guys like @samadams593 pose with an assault rifle and say, “I saw what happened to Trump.”
“Yeah. Time to go,” he posted on the account that’s been disabled since the day after the Mar-a-Lago raid. “Everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
“What I think is particularly scary is how these people are willing to show their guns on a TikTok video and say let’s go,” Via said.
Alex Friedfeld, an extremism expert with the Anti-Defamation League, said the Mar-a-Lago raid had caused some Americans to prepare for combat.
“You see people interpreting the Mar-a-Lago raid not as legitimate legal process but as the first shots of a war by the federal government,” Friedfeld said. “So, therefore, you’re seeing calls for people to arm up, lock up and load up, and be ready to use real bullets to defend themselves. It’s everywhere.”
Progressive political blogger Michelle Davis follows between 4,000 and 5,000 extremist TikTok accounts at any one time.
She saw hundreds of new threatening posts on TikTok every day following the Aug. 8 FBI raid on Donald Trump’s compound, she said, and even more on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“I’ve seen posts responding to the Mar-a-Lago raid where they specifically said all Donald Trump had to do was give the word and we’d rock and roll,” said Davis, who blogs at the Texas policy on LivingBlueTX.com.
Extremist account holders simply switch accounts as soon as TikTok deactivates them, said Davis, who often tweets the most disturbing content, including the woman in the beach hat and the guy with the gun on the bed, who marries conspiracy theory debunked on tax.
The right is preparing for civil war. I would report them all to @FBI, but I literally don’t have time to report the hundreds of videos like this i see on my alt tiktok. (And they haven’t checked Twitter.) so here’s a /1 pic.twitter.com/4zttJLxCaf
— Michelle (@LivingBlueTX) August 9, 2022
“When TikTok realizes they have hashtags that are used for this type of stuff, they’ll ban the hashtag so you can’t follow it,” she said. “But these guys always find clever ways around it,” changing the hashtag.
Davis noted that accounts can attract thousands of views before being deleted.
Extremists use messages on TwitterYouTube and Tiktok to direct viewers to sites where speech is darker and less guarded, said Elizabeth Neumann, co-founder of Moonshot, a London-based agency that analyzes online extremism.
“They’re talking in memes or coded language, so it’s not obvious to the algorithm or the person watching,” said Neumann, who served as assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention in the United States. Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration.
“Language and memes morph and change quite quickly,” she said. “They learn and adapt to these moderation controls.”
Neumann and other experts first noticed extremism in mainstream online spaces about five years ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic – with its risk, isolation and uncertainty – accelerated the mainstreaming of extremism and conspiracy theories in 2020. There have also been spikes since then, notably around the Capitol headquarters. in 2021.
“It would be hard to say that this particular moment is so new and different from what happened in 2020,” Neumann said of the Mar-a-Lago backlash.
“This mainstreaming of extremism was already underway for a long time,” she said.
“But 2020 was like that watershed moment where, wow, a lot of people in this country decided to get away from the facts, get away from reality and instead chose to believe some random person on the internet rather than a doctor or an election specialist,” she said.
“The pandemic has created this space for more and more people to have this cognitive openness for a complete dismissal of anyone in a position of authority, or anyone with credentials to be able to explain things,” he said. she adds.
Extremist groups see the Mar-a-Lago moment as a recruiting opportunity, similar to how, during the pandemic, groups including the Proud Boys began recruiting among anti-vaxxers.
“There’s an increase in the general public talking about things that extremists talk about all the time,” Neumann said of the calls for violence and the surge in pro-Trump and anti-government conspiracy theories.
“The question is whether this will have a lasting effect, much like the disruptive effect of COVID has sent people down these rabbit holes.
“Some eventually came back – but a lot of people are still in these rabbit holes. Is this moment going to push people over the edge – and they’re not coming back, and they’re just moving through this space of extremism in ways permed?
“It’s hard to know if this is an ongoing trend that will have lasting ramifications, or if it’s just a spike we see after an event and then they all go on living.”