Click here to read GNET's latest report GNET Survey on the Role of Technology in Violent Extremism and the State of Research Community-Tech Industry Engagement

One -Stop -Shop for Recruitment and Dating: Extremists’ Exploitation of Dating Platforms

One -Stop -Shop for Recruitment and Dating: Extremists’ Exploitation of Dating Platforms
31st August 2021 Kesa White
In Insights

Dating apps have become an essential part of life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as individuals have limited face-to-face interactions. On apps such as these, individuals can connect with individuals they share commonalities with or just exchange messages with other users. However, extremists have realised that using these communication methods can be a new easy method to recruit and find a significant other. As a result, mainstream platforms such as Tinder, Bumble, and OkCupid are frequently exploited. In contrast, others have turned to places such as Patriot Peer, Trump Singles, White Date, MyMilitia, and WASPLove to connect with other White Race members. While these platforms have been around for quite some time, it was not until the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the 2021 Insurrection in Washington, DC that people began to pay close attention to a large number of extremists on apps aimed at making personal connections.

The number of users on apps is constantly changing as users change their preferences and purpose of being on the app. Depending on the level of connection a person seeks depends on the platform they choose to interact. Violence on these platforms is not a new phenomenon, as Maegan Tapley was killed after her Tinder date; while the man does not have any ties to an extremist group, it shows that these platforms can be misused and can result in violence. Extremists can target one another the same way as users looking to date by changing their interests to match other users they are seeking. Recently, a man on Grindr was assaulted and robbed because of his sexuality, which resulted in the perpetrator pleading guilty to hate crimes. These examples show that dating apps have a history of violence, and people continue to use them cautiously because of their dark history. Extremists use the platforms for the same reasons normal users congregate on the platform. They can reach users across the globe by changing their location, forging bonds, and communicating with one another before exchanging personal information.

Extremists use these apps mainly for recruitment and dating to increase organisation membership and find users who share far-right interests, such as preserving the white race and wanting a white family. Similarly, Islamic State (IS) used similar tactics to encourage women to fulfill gendered roles such as wives and homemakers, but also recruiters. IS and the far-right can recruit individuals on these platforms because they promise a better life and a sense of camaraderie. After both users ‘swipe’ or ‘like’ one another, they can begin communicating on the platform immediately in a 1-on-1 setting without being moderated or without the public being able to see them tweeting one another like on Twitter. Once they virtually connect, they already have something about one another that they are interested in, which is why they chose to connect. An extremist can ask questions on the app to get to know them and determine if they are worth investing time into by communicating with them further offline on an encrypted network or introducing them to another recruiter before officially being invited to join the organisation for an interview process. The information to the encrypted communication platform is only provided to users that share their ideologies and firm believers in preserving the white race by any means necessary. There is not a shortage of users to choose from as there are thousands of users that use these platforms daily.

In addition to recruitment, platforms such as White Date and WASPLove specifically target the white race. They are for connecting white singles to preserve the white race by matching white singles with one another. Due to them catering to the white race already signals their motives and beliefs as they chose not to be on a dating app such as Bumble that caters to all demographics. The platform advertises itself for whites looking for other whites, which makes it unique. It is easy for users to flaunt their beliefs without risking being banned or reported because other users likely share the same ideals. Bad-mouthing other individuals help forge bonds and make connections, which can potentially turn into them continuing to maintain the vision of David Lane.

Signalling and credible commitments are a large part of extremists using dating apps to recruit and look for love because they have to ensure they are speaking to the authentic person behind the profile. One of the tactics extremists can use to determine the authenticity of a profile is not by ‘liking’ every white person the app shows them but by viewing their profile biography and profile picture. Incorporating numbers, letters, and hand signs can display their level of commitment. Posting a profile picture wearing a swastika or writing 1488 in their biography would be too obvious and result in being reported immediately. Therefore, app users and recruiters must show their commitment by using other tactics such as posting profile pictures of themselves, creating a ‘P’ with one hand and a ‘W’ with the other hand to signify peckerwood. Another way to signal is by incorporating ‘ROA’ (Race overall) in their bio or ‘FGRN’ (For God, Race, and Nation). A regular user may overlook the symbols being used; however, an extremist can identify the meaning quickly. The racism that occurs on these platforms also comes in the form of trolling, where extremists will occasionally match with someone they have no intentions of forming a connection with to spew racist slurs at them and use dehumanising language. It is difficult to moderate these platforms because profile pictures and bios do not go through a formal approval process, allowing users to go undetected by using coded language and hand symbols. Many apps depend on users to report extremist content and racism on their platforms, which is not enough for extremists to increase their presence on dating apps.

In the aftermath of the Insurrection and Unite the Right Rally, mainstream dating platforms such as Bumble and OkCupid have banned extremists from their platforms and taken a strong stance against using hateful rhetoric. On the dating platform OkCupid, a known white nationalist and attendee of the Unite the Right Rally, Christian Cantwell explicitly stated his dating preferences by providing several items that were non-negotiable for him to have in a partner on his blog. After OkCupid learned of Cantwell’s presence, they quickly banned the white nationalist. Women on Bumble took it upon themselves to report users bragging about attending the Insurrection by matching with them and listening to their incriminating statements. Bumble has even partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to educate themselves and actively continue their stance against banning hate on their platform. Individuals that dislike similar things can form bonds faster because the shared antipathy can build trust. Recently, the platform Hater has become a new place for individuals who hate similar things to match with other users who share dislikes. While this may be a quick way to form connections, it can also bring users who hate things that can match them with users on the far-right end of the spectrum. Once extremists are de-platformed from one platform, they move to another app to continue to reach the masses. Dating apps should be knowledgeable of the issues occurring on their platform, but simply moderating is not enough when there are apps that specifically cater to the white race and others that have not taken a stance against racism and banning extremists.