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How Hate Groups Recruit New, Young Members Through Video Games

October 30, 2020

It is no surprise video games can be violent. But what about hateful?

New research links video games to a recent rise in hate groups. Membership in hate groups, or organizations that advocate for hostility or violence toward a person based on ethnicity, race or gender, has increased significantly over the last few years.

“Part of the increase is accounted for by increasing use of the Internet, which has enabled these groups’ growth,” said Dr. Paul Weigle, associate medical director of ambulatory services at Natchaug Hospital, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network. “The internet provides a collective identity, easy access and legal freedoms for these groups.”

Hate groups have seemingly infiltrated video games, often by paying for advertising on gaming sites or recruiting directly through online gaming chats.

“Millions of people, including children and adolescents, use online gaming chat platforms, which are relatively unmonitored,” said Dr. Weigle. “Many games feature private chats, where the gamers are paired up with teammates. Members of hate groups who are on these private chats will make racial slurs, see who responds positively, and send them links to Twitter accounts, propaganda videos on YouTube or hate group websites.”

Hate-group websites can seem harmless because they use ambiguous names, making it easy for adolescents to stumble into such a group without realizing its true nature. Receiving news through social media, which young people are more likely to do than adults, is another risk factor for exposure to polarizing news stories and extremist propaganda. Recruitment through the dark web is less common because the potential audience there is far smaller.

“Youth who are vulnerable to hate speech include adolescents, who tend to question adults’ sources of information, particularly white masculine teens who spend more time online, whose friends are online and who discuss politics online,” said Dr. Weigle. “Also at risk are youth who need the sense of belonging that these groups can provide, such as those who have experienced family disruption, trauma and mental illness, as well as victims of bullying or abuse.”

What can parents do to prevent exposure to hate groups?

Dr. Weigle suggests:

  • Discussing bias with children.
  • Increasing a child’s contact with peers of different groups.
  • Increasing exposure to shows, movies and books featuring protagonists of different groups.
  • Making sure when playing video games with online chats that it occurs in public areas of the home and without headphones so that online interactions can be monitored.

“It is often eye-opening for parents to hear what is going on in these chats, not just regarding bias, but also for profanity and aggressive language,” said Dr. Weigle. “It’s important to report inappropriate content or behavior to the content developer or website because that often will lead to having the offending material taken down or the offender suspended.”

Dr. Weigle added that if parents feel like they cannot help their teen involved with a hate group or are concerned about their teen’s safety, they should seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

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