The recent years have witnessed a stark spike in hate, extremists, and anti-communal violence in one of the most communally harmonious sections of the world, Southern Asia, namely, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. Be it is the recent prosecution and hate-triggered bloody violence of Bangladesh, torturous movement of Roghiniyas from Myanmar, or identity crisis of Muslims in India; all share the same link, an extremist mindset, determined to wipe out the other.

But, is there something more than just politics that have given rise to extremism in all these countries? Yes, extremism on social media. From the US’s capital riot to the recent anti-Hindu escalations in Bangladesh, social media have played a major role in radicalizing the extremists.

Violence Around the Globe

The Internet has made our lives easier, in ways, unpredictable a few decades back. But, in recent years, this immensely powerful tool has begun to interest extremist movements, inflicting violent riots and attacks all over the world, involving the deadly US Capitol riot in January 2021.

The current escalation in Bangladesh was sparked by a viral social media post of the Islamic holy Qur’an was found in the shrine, buried under the statue of Lord Hanuman. This viral post has given rise to week-long anti-Hindu attacks, the worst Bangladesh has seen in its recent history. The riot left seven, while thousand in severe injuries.

The increment in not only the frequency but also the intensity of such radicalizing violent events around the globe are raising questions on social media’s policies against hatred and violence. What do the companies do to limit the reach of extremist posts, and far-right conspiracy theories?

Social Media and Radicalizing Posts

A December report indicated that YouTube played a key role in radicalizing the perpetrator of a 2019 attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 51 people dead. In the report, it was noted that the assailant had a belief in the “Great Replacement” theory, which asserts that people of color are disempowering and replacing whites, which was also popular among rioters at the US Capitol.

At a congressional hearing last month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted the social media service was involved with the white supremacist attack on the US Capitol. Twitter CEO Dorsey told lawmakers that the company works to combat extremism and misinformation.

Right-wing extremists in Australia have been recruited online using methods similar to those used by the Islamic State, according to a government official. Due to a concern for the safety of its employees and business prospects, Facebook has refrained from banning violent religious extremists in India.

YouTube revealed its first publicly available data on the percentage of views that come from videos later removed for promoting violent extremism and other rules violations. In contrast, it didn’t reveal what number of views these videos get before disappearing, which would probably be “eye-popping.” While, despite recent defeats in the Middle East, the Islamic State has encouraged discussion on forums about establishing a new caliphate in Africa as part of boosting its profile online.

The Profiliation of Harmful Content Online

Clearly, the increase in harmful content can be attributed to both a greater circulation of this type of content and better methods for detecting and combating it. In spite of this, predators and other bad actors are using spaces online to accelerate and facilitate illegal and harmful activity in unprecedented ways. The open web is only now exposing this type of activity, which many argue has existed forever.

As a result of digital disruption, which has created a frictionless experience for users, and the shift to advertising-based business models that maximize engagement, all kinds of content have been able to reach a massive audience more quickly and easily. But, Why don’t we do a better job of ‘cleaning up’ online spaces with all the technology and knowledge we have at our fingertips?

How to Curb Online Extremism on Social Media?

Deplatforming the most popular and troublesome instigators would be one way to try to curb online extremism. It is possible, however, for them to move to more seedy corners of the Internet and bring with them their followers.

Thus, tighter rules and regulations may soon be enacted for an industry that has been mostly left in the dark. A congressional hearing last month on social media’s promotion of extremism began by an American lawmaker declaring that “self-regulation has come to an end.”

A decade ago, an online video showing the depraved murder of a student was uploaded, and it affirmed the negative impact harmful content can have on society. We are witnessing the collision of physical and digital worlds, and the safety we enjoy online will become our personal safety, based on the content we create, see, and share.