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Hitler’s next conquest? Social media.

From startups, to activist resolutions, to fundraising, social networking services (SNSs) have paved the way for the emergence of many innovations and ideas in the world. There seems to be few limits when it comes to voicing one’s opinions and beliefs on social media. However, that belief was challenged when the emergence of a controversial digital pageant campaign was launched on the Internet using Russia’s popular SNS, VKontakte.

The pageant was looking for the next “Miss Hitler” but before a candidate can qualify for the pageant, she had to fit many Anti-Semitic standards, such as a dislike for the Jewish community, belief in the vision behind the Holocaust, and many more. Several candidates entered the competition on the “Adolf Hitler” group page, which also has 7,000 followers.

Screen-Shot-2014-10-20-at-12.31.04-PM1907111646One of the main reasons behind the popularity of SNSs is its ability to bring together people with mutual interest who otherwise would not know each other due to conflicts such as geographical boundaries. As we discussed in class, SNSs have the ability to transcend time and distance and allow communities to thrive if the members are united through a shared practice or interest. However, the
Photo courtesy of Vocativ

Miss Hitler pageant also exposes the darker side of social media. The accessibility of social media platforms, like VKontakte and Facebook, have given extremist groups a platform to convene and spread their beliefs.

Perhaps what is more troubling is that the negative attention garnered by the Miss Hitler campaign has also brought more facts into light. The Anti-Defamation League conducted a widespread survey and found that 30% of the adult population in Russia still harbour Anti-Semitic beliefs. The numbers are disturbing and with the widespread influence SNSs have on today’s generation, the passing on of Anti-Semitic beliefs might not die away as easily as we hope.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 8.47.22 PMPhoto courtesy of ADL Global 100

VKontakte recently banned the Adolf Hitler page citing that the page “called for violent actions” which the company will not tolerate.  However even with the banning of the group, there are countless more Anti-Semitic  groups that exist on VKontakte that boast thousands of followers. Although I’m not an advocate for social media censorship, I do believe that measures had to be taken to ensure that the pageant campaign doesn’t attract more attention and potential followers. However, at the same time, I wonder if censoring the page will really solve the overarching issue; how extremist groups utilize social media to spread their message. Will the removal of the Adolf Hitler page anger its 7,000 social media followers? And will the Anti-Semitic community find another way to spread their message that results in an inability to monitor their digital footprint?

The Adolf Hitler page, although not great, is one of the milder extremist groups that exist on the Internet. Several countries are concerned about the radical Islamist groups that are harnessing the power of social media to spread black propaganda and recruiting potential members. Several representatives from tech giants and government agencies met in Luxembourg two weeks ago to discuss how to handle the presence of the radical groups on their social media platform. The agenda and possible resolutions discussed at the meeting hasn’t been released so it will be interesting to see if any popular SNSs start implementing stricter group and page policies in the coming months. The idea of stricter censorship is a delicate issue and I believe that companies have to tread lightly as they not only want to uphold the personal digital freedom that characterizes SNSs, but also at the same time understand where to draw the line.

Sources:
Featured image courtesy of ksablan

http://www.vocativ.com/world/russia/miss-hitler-pagent/

http://www.vocativ.com/culture/religion/miss-hitler/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/22/miss-hitler-competition_n_6028380.html

http://global100.adl.org/#country/russia

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29505103?ocid=socialflow_twitter

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