For moderators of social platforms such as Facebook, trying to quell the sickening churn of online hate culture is like playing a twisted game of whack-a-mole. As soon as one online hate group is squashed, another pops up in its place—often on another platform. And leaving the radical viewpoints of such groups unchecked, experts say, can have deadly consequences.
With this problem in mind, a new study treats online hate as a living, evolving organism and tracks its spread and interactions over time. The research team, led by physicist and complexity researcher Neil Johnson of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., created mathematical models to analyze data from social platforms including Facebook and the Russian social network Vkontakte (VK), where users can form groups with others of similar views.