In August 2021, Instagram announced an update to its work against the spread of abuse on the platform, reiterating a zero tolerance policy for hate speech and abusive content, and adding new features aimed at reducing abuse, especially as it occurs via direct messaging (DM) and comments. Despite this update – and a previous iteration in February, 2021 – extremist content remains easily accessible on Instagram.
ADL’s Center on Extremism (COE) researchers found accounts sharing white supremacist content by searching Instagram for terms related to the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements. Some of these terms were searchable as hashtags, which have the potential to expose users to extremist posts from a multitude of accounts. COE began with a single search for accelerationist content and followed the path to extremist posts that are exposing Instagram users to potentially dangerous and radicalizing content.
Using keyword searches, COE researchers found hundreds of Instagram accounts sharing white supremacist content. Starting with a keyword related to a certain branch of white supremacy brought up extremist accounts that may act as a gateway into the larger extremist community on Instagram and beyond.
COE researchers entered the term “Atomwaffen,” and were able to find and view five Instagram posts containing content linked to Atomwaffen Division, an accelerationist group created in 2016. By searching for accounts that were “following” the original five, the COE was able to quickly locate another 50 accounts sharing white supremacist content, including additional posts related to Atomwaffen and neo-Nazi symbolism such as the swastika or SS bolts. By the third tier of followers, the number of accounts expanded to more than two hundred and branched out to other white supremacist themes, including traditionalism and white nationalism. These accounts were all public, and the incidence of extremist content on private accounts may be much higher.