NEW YORK (Reuters) - Militants and hate groups increasingly use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as propaganda tools to recruit new members, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The report released on Wednesday noted a 25 percent rise in the past year in the number of “problematic” social networking groups on the Internet.
The report was based on “over 10,000 problematic Web sites, social networking groups, portals, blogs, chat rooms, videos and hate games on the Internet which promote racial violence, anti-semitism, homophobia, hate music and terrorism.”
“Every aspect of the Internet is being used by extremists of every ilk to repackage old hatred, demean the ‘Enemy,’ to raise funds and since 9/11, recruit and train Jihadist terrorists,” the Center said in a statement.
Examples of what the report calls “digital terrorism and hate” range from a Facebook group named “Death to gays” in Croatian to a YouTube video of a Koran being burned and various Web sites promoting militant groups such as Hezbollah, the Taliban, al Qaeda and Colombia’s FARC.
The Jewish human rights group named for the renowned Nazi hunter has been monitoring use of the Internet by extremists for over a decade. It said the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook had accelerated the spread of racist and bigoted views in recent years.
It said Facebook officials had met with its experts and pledged to remove sites that violate its terms of usage, “but with over 200 million users, online bigots have to date outpaced efforts to remove them.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, said Facebook recently removed several Holocaust denial sites, including one that featured a cartoon of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, whose diary written in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam is among the best known stories of the Holocaust.
“The main social networkers understand they have a problem,” Cooper told Reuters. “The company that’s tried to do its best so far has been Facebook, yet we’ve seen that sometimes your best isn’t enough to eliminate a problem.”
He pointed out a YouTube user whose racist content has caused his postings on the site to be taken down repeatedly, but he simply creates a new user profile, or channel, and posts the material again, boasting that it is his 64th channel.
Extremist groups are also setting up their own social networking sites, the report said, picking out one called “New Saxon,” described as “a Social Networking site for people of European descent” produced by an American Neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement.
Other groups have created online games such as one created by an Iranian organization and called “Special Operation 85 - Hostage Rescue,” and one called “Border Patrol” in which the player has to shoot Mexicans, including women and children, as they try to come over the border into the United States.
Leena Shehadeh, a 17-year-old who attended a presentation of the report with her class in New York, said such games and racist language are often treated as jokes by her generation.
“We didn’t live through the Holocaust, we didn’t live through slavery,” she said during an audience discussion. “So people see it as a joke, until something bad happens.”
Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Ellen Wulfhorst