DHS awards $700 million to monitor extremism in video games


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The US Department of Homeland Security, the agency that has brought you great successes like the airport facial recognition, caged childrenand one of short time Disinformation Governance Board, is targeting another supposed hotbed of terror: video games.

This week, the DHS reward Terrorism and Disinformation Researchers a $699,763 grant to study the ways in which extremism can spread through online gaming communities. DHS hopes researchers will use the grant to develop a set of “best practices and centralized resources”, enabling game makers to monitor and assess potential extremist activity occurring on their games. The DHS grant was reported for the first time by Vice.

In its announcement, the DHS acknowledged some of the positive aspects of community building online games, noting how many have “become focal points of social activity and identity creation for teens and young adults,” but went on to criticize the developers for failing to properly account for how extremist groups could potentially use these same platforms to promote harmful behavior.

“Extremists have used video games and targeted video game communities for activities ranging from creating propaganda to terrorist mobilization and traininging,” writes the DHS. “Game developers in general – from small independent studios to billion-dollar multinationals – have lagged behind in realizing how extremists may attempt to exploit their games and how their communities may be targeted for radicalization.”

The grant money will go to a joint project of the Middlebury Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, mental health nonprofit Take This, and Logically, a company claiming to use the artificial intelligence to fight misinformation. In addition to defining best practices and standards, the groups will run a series of workshops to monitor, detect and prevent the exploitation of extremism in gaming spaces aimed at “community managers, multiplayer designers, lore developers, mechanism designers and trust and security professionals”. .”

Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes on popular multiplayer games can attest to the nasty, often blatantly racist sentiments being shouted at in chat rooms and sneaking into chat boxes. Although none of this is particularly newnews reports and research show that extremist groups, especially those of white nationalist persuasion, both recruit disgruntled gamers and then encourage them to act on their ideologies in the physical world.

In 2017, The New York Times and other outlets would have discovered that the video game chat app Discord played an outsized role in mobilizing Unite The Right members in Charlottesville, Virginia. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League published a investigation in 2019 of American video game players and found that 23% of respondents said they had been exposed to extremist white supremacist ideology in online games. When you consider that about 90% of teenagers would have playing some form of video games, which is potentially one hell of a lot of exposure to shitty racist rants.

At the same time, the DHS and its associated tendrils like ICE and TSA aren’t exactly known for their moral tact or deep consideration for civil liberties. In 2020, under the Trump administration, American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony D. Romero called for wholesale dismantling from DHS after officers were deployed to agitate, and in some cases to tear outanti-racism protesters across the country.

“DHS’s short history has been filled with violence, fearmongering and a lack of oversight,” Romero wrote. “We can best preserve our freedoms and security by dismantling DHS and starting over.”


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