The United States Department of Homeland Security provided a grant of nearly $699,763 to help fund research into extremist groups using popular multiplayer games as recruitment grounds. Middlebury’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism leads the research, alongside mental health nonprofit organization Take This and Logically, an AI company striving to combat misinformation and intolerant behavior online.
The grant comes a few months after Take This and the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism presented early findings at 2022’s Game Developers Conference.
“Over the past decade, video games have increasingly become focal points of social activity and identity creation for adolescents and young adults,” the DHS said in its rationale for awarding the grant (first spotted by Vice). “Relationships made and fostered within game ecosystems routinely cross over into the real world and are impactful parts of local communities. Correspondingly, extremists have used video games and targeted video game communities for activities ranging from propaganda creation to terrorist mobilization and training.”
As Vice reported, the DHS likely refers to a report the Anti-Defamation League published citing Steam as a recruitment ground for white supremacists and domestic terrorists, but the problem exists outside Valve’s gaming platform. Author Ibram Kendi compiled multiple reports in The Atlantic about experiences with children and young adults encountering extremists in games such as Fortnite, with their loose, open chat systems.
“Game developers in general – from small, independent studios to billion-dollar multinational corporations – have lagged in awareness of how extremists may attempt to exploit their games, and how their communities can be targeted for radicalization,” the DHS said.
The project’s goals include developing practices to identify and address recruitment and exploitation in games spaces, along with resources for monitoring and preventing extremist activity and workshops to help community managers, narrative specialists, and game designers monitor and prevent the same.