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Crackdown on online hate speech pushes extremists to other platforms

In a Congressional hearing last week the heads of Facebook and Twitter said they're taking measures to slow the spread of hate speech and conspiracies on their sites in the wake of the Jan 6 insurrection. But a crackdown on mainstream platforms is pushing extremists onto less monitored forums. Simon Ostrovsky reports as part of our series, “Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism."

A Zoom representative's response to PBS NewsHour Weekend regarding this story:

“Like all companies, users of Zoom are required to abide by applicable laws and our own policies when using our services, including Zoom’s Terms of Service and Community Standards, which include policies prohibiting abuse, threatening conduct, and the promotion or glorification of violence and violent extremism on the platform.

When we are made aware of a potential violation of our policies, our Trust & Safety team reviews the facts and circumstances of the conduct in question. Then we make a determination about whether that conduct violates our policies and, if so, what remedial action is warranted.

We have asked PBS for more information about the meetings referenced in this report and are committed to reviewing the facts and taking appropriate action consistent with our policies.

We encourage our users to report any instances of suspected violations to our Terms of Service or Community Standards at https://zoom.us/trust-form.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Last week the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google testified before Congress on how their platforms handle disinformation and the spread of extremism online.

    The tech giants all say they do attempt to limit the spread of extremist speech and conspiracy theories, and block accounts trafficking in hate and violence.

    But Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky found some of these groups are finding new ways to push their false narratives.

    This report is part of our ongoing initiative "Exploring Hate," Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    For many, the failed January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol seemed like the high water mark for a dangerous cocktail of right-wing ideologies that flourished during the Trump era.

    But for hardcore supporters of the 45th president, the insurrection represented the beginning of a new resistance movement, a movement that's found new life on a platform all too familiar in the age of the lockdown: Zoom.

  • Judy:

    Hi, I'm Judy from Nebraska. President Trump is going to act and you need to help him act. You need to get yourself ready, get food, water, and get your households in order. The military is getting called up.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Conference calls like this one, recorded a week before the inauguration, feature both leaders of the so-called "patriot" movement.

  • Mike Lindell:

    Can you guys hear me? Hello?

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    As well as thousands of rank-and-file adherents of the conspiracy theories that once teemed on Twitter and Facebook, dialing in from home.

  • Man:

    We're ready to take action.

  • Karladine Graves:

    Thank you.

  • Man:

    Y'all need to get ready.

  • Karladine Graves:

    OK, just hold on. Hold on. We're going to do this… We're going to do this orderly.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Moderating it all is Karladine Graves, an unassuming Kansas City family doctor and self-professed member of the anti-government John Birch Society, who first started organizing these "standing strong together" conferences as Joe Biden emerged as winner of the 2020 race.

  • Karladine Graves:

    Thank you so much. I want to tell everyone who is on the Zoom, we have almost a thousand now.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. He told NewsHour Weekend that while necessary, the crackdown on hate speech and conspiracy groups on social media could have the unintended consequence of pushing extremists onto less monitored forums.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    We think it's very likely that you will see, while they move to other social media platforms because the large ones, finally, now after years, are taking some degree of action, those seeds have already been planted and so they will organize through different media. They will find new ways to connect.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    While most Americans were appalled by the violent attempt to stop Congress's certification of the election results, participants of this call, which took place the night before Biden's inauguration, continued to discuss ways to derail his presidency

  • Thomas McInerney:

    Now, I believe what General Flynn said, and I believe what Sydney Powell said. This still could be won by tomorrow. I don't want to go into the details, but President Trump, if he betrays us and he doesn't listen to those people and they don't do what can be done using the military, then he has betrayed us.

  • Paul Vallely:

    We want him courage to go on and fight this thing. Invoke the insurrections act, martial law, if he has to, that's what General MacInerney and I have been saying. I was in contact with General Flynn this morning, he's frustrated.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Retired high-ranking members of the armed forces are a mainstay of the zoom conferences and something akin to celebrities of the patriot movement. They talk about politics using the language of an armed insurgency.

  • Robert Dees:

    The nature of the war that we're fighting has changed. We had air superiority prior to a few months back. We no longer have that. We don't have air superiority. We're fighting almost a guerrilla warfare. We're fighting a civil rights movement as an oppressed minority. And we've got to have the same persistence and consistency over time that others have demonstrated.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    All pay deference to this man, Trump's former National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, who on January 5th, the eve of the insurrection, told a crowd — part of which would go on to attack the capitol the next day — not to accept the election results.

  • Michael Flynn:

    The members of Congress, those of you that don't have the moral fiber in your body, get some tonight, because tomorrow we the people are going to be here and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Guests frequently claim to have a direct line to Flynn, and before Trump left office, people inside the White House itself. This burnishes their standing among listeners.

  • Dave Troy:

    People wonder how were people drawn into, you know, the Qanon mythology? And the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of people with, you know, what sound like very credible resumes, you know, military intelligence, you know, FBI, CIA, all of this who had been promoting this.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Dave Troy is an independent network analyst who tracks disinformation on social media. He believes high-profile retired security officials play a major role in popularizing some of the more outlandish online narratives, especially among military veterans.

  • Dave Troy:

    And when somebody has CIA after their name, they seem like they know what they're talking about and they're talking about child trafficking and Adrenochrome or whatever else. And it becomes a very compelling argument to people to take this messaging seriously.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    This is concerning to the wider intelligence community, which has long warned that radical groups target veterans because of their military training. Security expert Elizabeth Nuemann served in the Trump administration as Assistant Secretary of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Elizabeth Neumann:

    We really need to do a better job of both educating military members when they leave. They usually go through a whole series of classes when you leave the military. We need to make sure that we are educating them about the fact that they get targeted for recruitment and what to do if they do get targeted for recruitment. We also need to help, I would argue, not just the military members, but their spouses and family members to learn the signs and indicators of an individual that might be being recruited into radicalized thought or mobilizing to violence and if we can better equip the bystanders in their life, their spouses, their family members or loved ones, we may be able to prevent that radicalization process from getting fulfilled.

    "AND WE KNOW" Podcast: You can hear General Flynn, our leader, the people's general, is putting out information to let us know that this election fraud is not over with.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    While January 6 may have made it harder for anti-government groups to organize on some social networks, their adherents have migrated to other platforms like teleconferencing, encrypted apps and niche video streaming sites. On that side of the looking glass, the war against reality grinds on.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We reached out to zoom about this segment and in a statement a spokesperson said company policy prohibits abuse, threatening conduct and the promotion or glorification of violence and violent extremism on the platform. They are going to review the facts and take appropriate action consistent with their policies. The full statement can be found on our website.

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