EU Approves Digital Services Act and National Butterfly Center Reopens and President Macron Wins
April 21-27, 2022 | Issue 5 - Extremism Team
Lydia Baccino, Daniel D’Menzie, Asya Kocheva, Extremism Team
Carlos Hochberger, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief of Staff
Social Media Keyboard
Date: April 22, 2022
Parties involved: EU; EU Member States; EU Executive Committee; Social media companies; Far-right actors; Reichsburger movement
The event: EU officials approved the Digital Services Act (DSA), which compels social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, to better monitor and police harmful content posted on their platforms. The law addresses the spread of hate speech, misinformation, and extremist content in these spaces by requiring companies to ban material tailored to users’ race, gender, and religion. Social media companies will also be held accountable for harmful material promoted by their algorithms. The EU and EU member-State governments will monitor online platforms with greater scrutiny and they will be expected to carry out routine risk assessment checks to review the efficacy of the legislation.
Analysis & Implications:
The DSA’s enactment will very likely encourage far-right actors to relocate their online activities from mainstream social media sites to new, fringe virtual spaces such as streaming service podcasts, dark-web forums, and cryptocurrency platforms. This digital migration will almost certainly result in the immediate loss of size, visibility, and reach of these far-right groups in the virtual world, although they are very likely to benefit in the long term due to the lack of moderation, surveillance, and legislation specifically aimed at these new digital marketplaces. If the EU includes these new platforms under the DSA, it is very likely their efforts will not adapt fast enough to their rapidly evolving technologies that protect users’ anonymity and encrypt messages. This ability to evade detection from law enforcement officials will very likely attract various extremists to this spaces to network with each other, plan their attacks, and distribute radical material to peers.
EU populations with existing civil unrest and high rates of government distrust will very likely perceive the DSA as an impediment to their Freedom of Speech and a pipeline to other rights violations, such as the right to privacy. Groups such as the Reichsburger movement in Germany will very likely utilize the legislation to reignite nationwide protests with clear anti-government and anti-EU messages, likely encouraging behaviors of non-compliance to reject its enforcement and the governments that ratified. If a significant number of users become de-platformed for violating the clauses of the DSA, it is very likely radical actors will intensify their efforts to reject the law through violence targeting government officials, government buildings, or a highly populated capital city to coerce change.
Date: April 23, 2022
Location: Mission, Texas, USA
Parties involved: National Butterfly Center’s staff; Far-right actors; QAnon followers
The event: The National Butterfly Center (NBC), a 100-acre private butterfly conservatory, reopened after violent threats by conspiracy theorists led to its closure in February. In recent years, far-right actors and QAnon followers have spread misinformation that the center was a location for child sexual abuse trafficking and illegal immigration. Conspiracy theories began after the center opposed the construction of Trump's border wall on their territory, claiming that the wall would negatively impact its habitat.
Analysis & Implications:
The reopening of NBC will almost certainly attract the attention of the far-right conspirators who crafted the initial theory. These groups will very likely resort to social media to spread misinformation and propaganda calling for a revival of violence toward the building and its staff in the hope of reaching broader audiences. Social media users unaware of its far-right lineage will likely resonate with its message and believe in the conspiracy. An increase in believers of this conspiracy very likely increases the risk of violence against the NBC, likely resulting in environmental damage or casualties.
Far-right groups will very likely continue to craft conspiracy theories exploiting sensitive topics, such as child abuse, to lure in mainstream audiences. Increasing support from people will likely make the conspiracy look more legitimate, likely enticing more followers. Continued distribution of theories will very likely lead to extremist activities and violence, similar to the Pizzagate case.
Date: April 25, 2022
Parties involved: Emmanuel Macron; Marine Le Pen; French Government; National Rally
The event: Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen in the French Presidential election, winning 58.55% of the total votes. In defeat, Le Pen's National Rally obtained the highest number of votes gained by any far-right political party in French history. The National Rally has a reputation for spreading Islamophobic and anti-immigration worldviews with rhetoric criticizing multiculturalism and its incongruence with French secularism (Laicite), and repeated calls for a complete ban of Islamic attire in public life, despite France housing the largest Muslim population in Europe. Through these policy proposals, the National Rally has cultivated a strong far-right and nationalist following both domestically and internationally.
Analysis & Implications:
Considering the major support that the far-right has received in France in these elections, Le Pen’s defeat very likely generated frustration and anger among her voters, so it is very likely to expect public demonstrations within the next few weeks in Paris. In the event French law enforcement officials use violent force to contain these protests, it is very likely tension will intensify and spread nationwide, likely supported and endorsed by the global far-right milieu empathetic to their cause and supportive of the National Rally.
France's Muslim population will very likely continue to feel alienated by Le Pen's anti-Islam and anti-immigration rhetoric following her defeat. French Muslims will very likely distance themselves from wider society in fear of being attacked or discriminated against by fanatical National Rally voters. This social divide will likely draw a minority of French Muslims towards Jihadist radicalization as a means to defend their Muslim identity and confront critics of their faith. A domestic Islamist attack will very likely heighten the public discourse surrounding Islam’s role in France and likely draw more audiences towards the National Rally and their Islamophobic worldviews.
________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
 EU law targets Big Tech over hate speech, disinformation, The Seattle Times, April 2022, https://www.seattletimes.com/business/eu-reaches-landmark-deal-on-hate-speech-disinformation/
 Texas butterfly center targeted by far-right conspiracy theorists to reopen, The Guardian, April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/apr/23/texas-butterfly-center-targeted-by-far-right-conspiracy-theorists-to-reopen