Attack on the Capitol: A Consequence of Radicalisation Online

The recent attack on the US Capitol is no surprise in retrospect. Donald Trump has repeatedly called on his supporters to “stand by”. For days, social media had been mentioning 6 January 2021 as the date to carry out violence if Congress did not revise the results of the 2020 presidential election.

On platforms such as Parler, a Twitter alternative for many right-wing extremists, the messenger Telegram and the online forum ‘TheDonald’, people have been plotting to storm the Capitol for days. But it is not only these niche networks in which plans are being made publicly that were put into action yesterday. It took place on Twitter, TikTok and Facebook as well. On the latter platform in numerous groups with thousands of members who – incited by Donald Trump – doubt the election, spread disinformation and conspiracy narratives and even call for violence.

How dangerous it is that these groups, pages and accounts are not deleted from platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and others is now becoming apparent. But it also shows how drastic the consequences are when a president continuously spreads disinformation and defames the free press. Numerous journalists were attacked two days ago, including German television teams. The ARD team had to stop live coverage during the Tagesthemen, and the equipment of several TV teams was destroyed.

This violence does not come as a surprise. And it does not come from dark corners of the internet where no one has insight. The plans are not forged in encrypted messengers and the calls for violence are not spread on the ‘dark web’. Various researchers and experts have been warning about radicalisation on the net for a long time, monitoring these sites, pointing out these forums and platforms and urging Facebook and Co to finally take action. The security authorities, however, must also finally keep an eye on these corners of the internet. It is not acceptable that, as in the case of the anti-Semitic terrorist attack in Halle, officials of the Federal Criminal Police Office testify in court that they know neither the platforms nor the language codes of terrorists, let alone understand them. What is needed is more training and much stronger observation by the security authorities. After all, platforms like ‘TheDonald’ will certainly not abide by German laws. We need to know what radicalisations are taking place and what plots are being made there. For even when the Reichstag was attacked by conspiracy believers, Reich citizens and right-wing extremists, we were able to read how they conspired to carry out this attack. Unfortunately, nothing was done about it.

Yesterday, Twitter once again put warning labels on a video of Donald Trump warning that this content could lead to violence. Liking and simple retweeting, but not quoting, were prevented. It took hours for Twitter to block Trump’s account. By then, the video had more than 13 million views. Facebook moved relatively quickly to delete the video. However, it also took hours for Facebook to announce that it was actively seeking to combat content on its own platform that glorifies violence.

The pressure on the platforms to live up to their responsibility will increase after recent events. That is right and overdue. However, we should be concerned that it is images from Washington that are prompting a rethink. Meanwhile, violence and murders called for on the well-known platforms in Myanmar, in India or in other countries did not lead to any reaction. Those who act globally must also ensure that their business model does not cause damage anywhere.

A recent study by the IDZ Jena showed that so-called deplatforming can be one aspect in solving this huge and comprehensive problem. The popular demand for more powers, such as backdoors in Messenger, seems like a farce. After all, all this hate and all these calls for violence are freely visible on the net. Security authorities must finally learn to understand the web.

Ann-Cathrin Riedel

Digitalisation and Global Innovation Officer at FNF