Between April 2020 and March 2021, 25% of referrals (1,229) to the Prevent programme were related to 'Extreme-Right' ideology. This was a decrease from the previous year, in which 1,387 referrals were made; however it is still a large and concerning number. Additionally, 317 of those referrals were adopted as Channel cases--a 5% increase from 301 the year before. 51% of referrals (2,522) were related to 'mixed, unstable or unclear ideology' which often includes extreme right-wing views. Overall, most individuals referred to the Programme were aged 15-20, and 63% (199) of the 317 Channel cases for Extreme-Right ideology involved those 20 or under. 30.8 (per million population) of all Extreme-Right referrals were in the North East.
What does any of this have to do with gamers?
Many young people use social media daily, and can be heavily influenced by these communities. These online networks make it easy for far-right leaders to target youth. According to The Guardian, UK white nationalist groups such as Patriotic Alternative are targeting youth through gaming tournaments and platforms like Roblox. The facade of gaming allows extremists to encode their messages as memes or typical gamer chat.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, this content isn't hard to find elsewhere, either. There are plenty of Facebook groups dedicated to right-wing viewpoints, often disguising themselves as dedicated to the study of European culture or traditions. Some advertise themselves as 'Skyrim IRL' or similar and show images of the idealized pastoral fantasy of medieval Europe that right-wing ideology promises. Pretending the groups are simply about Skyrim allows these groups to get past Facebook's moderation rules. Young people without context or critical thinking skills are unlikely to identify this propaganda for what it is.
Sites such as Reddit with open forums that cater to all interests--and low standards for moderation--tend to foster these communities. While there are relatively few overt extremists on the site, it's not unusual for users to advocate for bullying, harassment and violence towards others. It's easy for groups that genuinely are dedicated to, say, Minecraft to allow extremists to spread their ideas. Although few of these statements are serious threats, it's not hard to see how an environment such as this allows harmful views to proliferate.
Given the ways that right-wing advocates hide their ideologies, there are few solutions--none of them simple.
It is very important that parents are aware of what their children are looking at online, but this can only be achieved through building trust. A teenager who is comfortable telling their parents about their interests is far more likely to be open about their online activity than one who is not taken seriously. Parental controls are helpful but only go so far to prevent young people from accessing political propaganda.
Parents and educators need to be aware of right-wing groups, their ideologies and the language they use to promote them. With so many code words and 'dog whistles' designed to confuse those who oppose right-wing views, it's important to be aware of what messages youth are encountering online. Furthermore, youth must be taught critical thinking skills with regards to media from a young age.
While all this is easier said than done, a societal shift in our approach to youth and technology is necessary to solve these issues.