Former extremist teams up with Facebook to help users avoid the recruitment 'rabbit hole'

The Sydney Morning Herald
September 08, 2019

The world's largest social media platform will target Australians who search for specific words and terms linked to violent extremism in an effort to combat terrorism and hate organisations.

Users of Facebook and Instagram in Australia who search for terms like "heil Hitler" and "atomwaffen" [a neo-Nazi terrorist network] will trigger an automatic online response.

The pop-up will refer them to EXIT Australia, a not-for-profit organisation founded by former extremists which offers to help individuals seek a safe exit from groups advocating illegal, violent or other extreme action.

"We are trying to help people who are stuck in it like I was," said EXIT Australia founder Matthew Quinn on Wednesday.

Twenty years ago Mr Quinn turned his back on a life of hate as a white supremacist gang leader in Australia, a "rabbit hole" he fell down as a young man suffering bullying and isolation.

"A lot of the young people [in extremist groups] have trauma in their background, some come from really dysfunctional families, some even come from good families but they are looking for somewhere to voice their anger...so they go online and people recruit them," he said.

Mr Quinn said extremist recruitment today is no different to 20 years ago, except that it happens online instead of at parties.

"Violent extremist groups, whatever is the growing trend they will try and recruit people through that, like eco-fascism, changing their propaganda. A lot of people are blaming the internet for the propagation of violence, but that's just the world we're in now," he said.

"At EXIT we offer support to people so they can move away. Usually we talk online first, then we suggest a phone conversation and try and get in between them and [recruiters]."

Weapons allegedly used by Brenton Tarrant during the 2019 mass shooting in Christchurch.

The Australian launch follows that of an equivalent Facebook program in the US that linked users to Life After Hate, an organisation also founded by former violent extremists that provides crisis intervention.

Facebook has also updated its definition of terrorist content and organisations by expanding it from focusing specifically on acts of violence to also recognising "the threat of violence and the intention to coerce and intimidate...to achieve a particular political or ideological aim."

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