Video games have always been a huge part of Alex Newhouse’s life.
“They are a place for creative expression, a place to figure out what your personal identity is in a good way," Newhouse says.
Newhouse is the deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism with the Middlebury Institute.
Newhouse is one of the leading researchers looking at how extremist groups, like white supremacists, are using video games to recruit new members or radicalize those who could be susceptible.
Video games are no longer just a place for players to disconnect, many are like their own social media platforms where players communicate, play together, and build meaningful relationships.
“They’ve become these places where people live significant portions of their lives," Newhouse says.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 10% of young gamers admit they’ve been exposed to white supremacist ideology while playing with others online. That’s almost one and a half million people between 13 and 17 years old.
“What will happen is we will see two or three hardened extremists go into those lobbies and use really intense racial slurs or other extremist language and that are basically looking for positive responses from other people in the lobby," Newhouse says.
Newhouse says you can find hateful, racist, and antisemitic content easily on several online games with a simple search.
Stifling the hate speech is challenging for moderators.
“It’s very complex because, for example, let's say the tech companies, themselves, wanted to stop this. At their disposal are things like banning content, doing content moderation, suspending accounts, etc. What we’ve seen is whenever they do things like that, it pushes things underground to like the dark web or pushes them to less-used sites, so they are harder to monitor," says Carnegie Melon University professor Kathleen Carley, who has studied how extremist groups navigate the internet.
Newhouse points to studies that have found no link between violence in video games and violence in real life.
He says he’s working with tech companies to create ways to combat hateful content.
He also says it’s on parents to be involved and know who their children are talking with online because bad actors are casting a wide net in hopes someone will join them.
“They aren’t looking to radicalize every single person they interact with, rather, they are looking for just that sliver that they might be able to get interest from," Newhouse says.