Session Summary:  Political Extremism Goes Virtual and International

David Ibsen, Executive Director, Counter Extremism Project, New York City

Daphne Halikiopoulou, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Reading, Reading

Michael Chertoff, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, The Chertoff Group, Washington, D.C.

Ivan Bartoš, Chairman, Czech Pirate Party, Prague

Symeon Tsomokos, Founder and President, Delphi Economic Forum, Athens  

Led by: Roland Freudenstein, Polciy Director, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

 

The wars of the future are cyberwars and disinformation wars. Although there are signs of ‘nationalist internationalism’ in international branches of far-right groups and in forming alliances in power and parliaments to compete against the other parties, any international endeavours are by default not the priority of these groups.  

The direct impact of extremist topics, especially when taken up by populist politicians, is disappointment in people, mistrust in institutions and elected politicians. A good example of this is Greece which saw a surge in votes for far-right parties linked to economic and social aspects as well as immigration. Politicians should act transparently and focus on pro-people policies, rather than exacerbating feelings of exclusion and fear. 

When discussing the threats to American democracy showcased on the attack of the Capitol building on January 6, Michael Chertoff, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Chertoff Group focused on two phenomena that gave rise to the previously below-the-surface far-right group. Firstly, Donald Trump was directly supporting the group and using their language and secondly, the lockdown further exacerbated the frustrations and fuelled the riot.

Although there might not be a strong link between extremism and terrorism being caused by social media, social media platforms certainly act as an accelerator. Extremists misuse social media to grow and extend their message and membership. If the platforms do not step in and do more in curtailing this phenomenon, they become part and parcel of the issue. Like any technology, social media can be used for good as well as nefarious purposes. Referring to the terms and conditions of these platforms and communicating what comprises a misuse of them to users could be simple solutions that would help to address the issues.  

“Although the ultimate responsibility for extremism and terrorism sits with individuals and groups, we have to look at how social media companies play a crucial role in mitigating extremist views.” - David Ibsen 

There is a need for a global effort in addressing these issues.