Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
  • By carefully toeing the line of propriety, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the power of mainstream social media to promote festivals, fashion brands, music labels and mixed martial arts tournaments that can generate millions in sales
  • Dozens of far-right groups that continue to leverage mainstream social media for profit, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism

BRUSSELS: It’s the premier martial arts group in Europe for right-wing extremists. German authorities have twice banned their signature tournament. But Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, still thrives on Facebook, where organizers maintain multiple pages, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, which they use to spread their ideology, draw in recruits and make money through ticket sales and branded merchandise.
The Battle of the Nibelungs — a reference to a classic heroic epic much loved by the Nazis — is one of dozens of far-right groups that continue to leverage mainstream social media for profit, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism.
All told, there are at least 54 Facebook profiles belonging to 39 entities that the German government and civil society groups have flagged as extremist, according to research shared with The Associated Press by the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit policy and advocacy group formed to combat extremism. The groups have nearly 268,000 subscribers and friends on Facebook alone.
CEP also found 39 related Instagram profiles, 16 Twitter profiles and 34 YouTube channels, which have gotten over 9.5 million views. Nearly 60 percent of the profiles were explicitly aimed at making money, displaying prominent links to online shops or photos promoting merchandise.
Click on the big blue “view shop” button on the Erik & Sons Facebook page and you can buy a T-shirt that says, “My favorite color is white,” for 20 euros ($23). Deutsches Warenhaus offers “Refugees not welcome” stickers for just 2.50 euros ($3) and Aryan Brotherhood tube scarves with skull faces for 5.88 euros ($7). The Facebook feed of OPOS Records promotes new music and merchandise, including “True Aggression,” “Pride & Dignity,” and “One Family” T-shirts. The brand, which stands for “One People One Struggle,” also links to its online shop from Twitter and Instagram.
The people and organizations in CEP’s dataset are a who’s who of Germany’s far-right music and combat sports scenes. “They are the ones who build the infrastructure where people meet, make money, enjoy music and recruit,” said Alexander Ritzmann, the lead researcher on the project. “It’s most likely not the guys I’ve highlighted who will commit violent crimes. They’re too smart. They build the narratives and foster the activities of this milieu where violence then appears.”
CEP said it focused on groups that want to overthrow liberal democratic institutions and norms such as freedom of the press, protection of minorities and universal human dignity, and believe that the white race is under siege and needs to be preserved, with violence if necessary. None has been banned, but almost all have been described in German intelligence reports as extremist, CEP said.
On Facebook the groups seem harmless. They avoid blatant violations of platform rules, such as using hate speech or posting swastikas, which is generally illegal in Germany.
By carefully toeing the line of propriety, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the power of mainstream social media to promote festivals, fashion brands, music labels and mixed martial arts tournaments that can generate millions in sales and connect like-minded thinkers from around the world.
But simply cutting off such groups could have unintended, damaging consequences.
“We don’t want to head down a path where we are telling sites they should remove people based on who they are but not what they do on the site,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.
Giving platforms wide latitude to sanction organizations deemed undesirable could give repressive governments leverage to eliminate their critics. “That can have really serious human rights concerns,” he said. “The history of content moderation has shown us that it’s almost always to the disadvantage of marginalized and powerless people.”
German authorities banned the Battle of the Nibelungs event in 2019, on the grounds that it was not actually about sports, but instead was grooming fighters with combat skills for political struggle.
In 2020, as the coronavirus raged, organizers planned to stream the event online — using Instagram, among other places, to promote the webcast. A few weeks before the planned event, however, over a hundred black-clad police in balaclavas broke up a gathering at a motorcycle club in Magdeburg, where fights were being filmed for the broadcast, and hauled off the boxing ring, according to local media reports.
The Battle of the Nibelungs is a “central point of contact” for right-wing extremists, according to German government intelligence reports. The organization has been explicit about its political goals — namely to fight against the “rotting” liberal democratic order — and has drawn adherents from across Europe as well as the United States.
Members of a California white supremacist street fighting club called the Rise Above Movement, and its founder, Robert Rundo, have attended the Nibelungs tournament. In 2018 at least four Rise Above members were arrested on rioting charges for taking their combat training to the streets at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. A number of Battle of Nibelungs alums have landed in prison, including for manslaughter, assault and attacks on migrants.
National Socialism Today, which describes itself as a “magazine by nationalists for nationalists” has praised Battle of the Nibelungs and other groups for fostering a will to fight and motivating “activists to improve their readiness for combat.”
But there are no references to professionalized, anti-government violence on the group’s social media feeds. Instead, it’s positioned as a health-conscious lifestyle brand, which sells branded tea mugs and shoulder bags.
“Exploring nature. Enjoying home!” gushes one Facebook post above a photo of a musclebound guy on a mountaintop wearing Resistend-branded sportswear, one of the Nibelung tournament’s sponsors. All the men in the photos are pumped and white, and they are portrayed enjoying wholesome activities such as long runs and alpine treks.
Elsewhere on Facebook, Thorsten Heise – who has been convicted of incitement to hatred and called “one of the most prominent German neo-Nazis” by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the German state of Thuringia — also maintains multiple pages.
Frank Kraemer, who the German government has described as a “right-wing extremist musician,” uses his Facebook page to direct people to his blog and his Sonnenkreuz online store, which sells white nationalist and coronavirus conspiracy books as well as sports nutrition products and “vaccine rebel” T-shirts for girls.
Battle of the Nibelungs declined to comment. Resistend, Heise and Kraemer didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Facebook told AP it employs 350 people whose primary job is to counter terrorism and organized hate, and that it is investigating the pages and accounts flagged in this reporting.
“We ban organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission, or are engaged in violence,” said a company spokesperson, who added that Facebook had banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations, including groups and individuals in Germany. The spokesperson said the company had removed over 6 million pieces of content tied to organized hate globally between April and June and is working to move even faster.
Google said it has no interest in giving visibility to hateful content on YouTube and was looking into the accounts identified in this reporting. The company said it worked with dozens of experts to update its policies on supremacist content in 2019, resulting in a five-fold spike in the number of channels and videos removed.
Twitter says it’s committed to ensuring that public conversation is “safe and healthy” on its platform and that it doesn’t tolerate violent extremist groups. “Threatening or promoting violent extremism is against our rules,” a spokesperson told AP, but did not comment on the specific accounts flagged in this reporting.
Robert Claus, who wrote a book on the extreme right martial arts scene, said that the sports brands in CEP’s data set are “all rooted in the militant far-right neo-Nazi scene in Germany and Europe.” One of the founders of the Battle of the Nibelungs, for example, is part of the violent Hammerskin network and another early supporter, the Russian neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin, also known as Denis Nikitin, has been barred from entering the European Union for ten years, he said.
Banning such groups from Facebook and other major platforms would potentially limit their access to new audiences, but it could also drive them deeper underground, making it more difficult to monitor their activities, he said.
“It’s dangerous because they can recruit people,” he said. “Prohibiting those accounts would interrupt their contact with their audience, but the key figures and their ideology won’t be gone.”
Thorsten Hindrichs, an expert in Germany’s far-right music scene who teaches at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, said there’s a danger that the apparently harmless appearance of Germany’s right-wing music heavyweights on Facebook and Twitter, which they mostly use to promote their brands, could help normalize the image of extremists.
Extreme right concerts in Germany were drawing around 2 million euros ($2.3 million) a year in revenue before the coronavirus pandemic, he estimated, not counting sales of CDs and branded merchandise. He said kicking extremist music groups off Facebook is unlikely to hit sales too hard, as there are other platforms they can turn to, like Telegram and Gab, to reach their followers. “Right-wing extremists aren’t stupid. They will always find ways to promote their stuff,” he said.
None of these groups’ activity on mainstream platforms is obviously illegal, though it may violate Facebook guidelines that bar “dangerous individuals and organizations” that advocate or engage in violence online or offline. Facebook says it doesn’t allow praise or support of Nazism, white supremacy, white nationalism or white separatism and bars people and groups that adhere to such “hate ideologies.”
Last week, Facebook  removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to the German anti-lockdown Querdenken movement, under a new “social harm” policy, which targets groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but didn’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
But how these evolving rules will be applied remains murky and contested.
“If you do something wrong on the platform, it’s easier for a platform to justify an account suspension than to just throw someone out because of their ideology. That would be more difficult with respect to human rights,” said Daniel Holznagel, a Berlin judge who used to work for the German federal government on hate speech issues and also  contributed to CEP’s report. “It’s a foundation of our Western society and human rights that our legal regimes do not sanction an idea, an ideology, a thought.”
In the meantime, there’s news from the folks at the Battle of the Nibelungs. “Starting today you can also dress your smallest ones with us,” reads a June post on their Facebook feed. The new line of kids wear includes a shell-pink T-shirt for girls, priced at 13.90 euros ($16). A child pictured wearing the boy version, in black, already has boxing gloves on.


Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta

Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms. (file/AFP)
Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms. (file/AFP)
Updated 03 December 2021

Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta

Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms. (file/AFP)
  • Russia files court case against Google and Meta for failure to delete content that Moscow deems illegal

MOSCOW: Russia’s state communications regulator Roskomnadzor has filed cases against US tech firms Google and Meta that could see fines imposed on their annual turnover in Russia, a Moscow court said on Friday.
Roskomnadzor in October threatened both Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook with fines based on a percentage of their annual turnover for a repeated failure to delete content that Moscow deems illegal.
Russian law allows for companies to be fined between 5 percent and 10 percent of annual turnover for repeated violations.
Moscow’s Tagansky District Court said court dates for both companies — neither of which immediately responded to a request for comment — were set for Dec. 24.
Russia has increased pressure on foreign tech companies as it seeks to assert greater control over the Internet, slowing down Twitter since March and routinely fining others for content violations.
Google has paid more than 32 million roubles in fines this year. Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms.
Russia last month demanded that 13 foreign and mostly US technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans.


Google delays mandatory return to office beyond Jan. 10

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
Updated 03 December 2021

Google delays mandatory return to office beyond Jan. 10

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
  • Google delays return to office indefinitely amid growing concerns over COVID-19 variant

LONDON: Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Thursday it is indefinitely pushing back its January return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and some resistance to company-mandated vaccinations.
Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10 at the earliest, ending its voluntary work-from-home policy.
On Thursday, Google executives told employees that the company would put off the deadline beyond that date. Insider first reported the news.
Google said the update was in line with its earlier guidance that a return to workplaces would begin no earlier than Jan. 10 and depend on local conditions.
Nearly 40 percent of US employees have come into an office in recent weeks, Google said, with higher percentages in other parts of the world.
But CNBC reported last week that hundreds of employees have protested the company’s vaccination mandate for those working on US government contracts.
Google was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home during the pandemic. It has about 85 offices across nearly 60 countries.
Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, the European Union’s public health agency said earlier on Thursday.


INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region
Updated 03 December 2021

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region
  • Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA, discusses influencer marketing’s growth and evolution in the region

DUBAI: AnyMind Group, a brand enablement platform for influencers, marketers, publishers and businesses, recently announced new updates to its influencer marketing platform, AnyTag, which it launched at the beginning of this year.

Since launching the AnyTag platform for marketers and the AnyCreator mobile app for influencers in the Middle East and North Africa region, the company has seen significant growth with a current database of more than 5000 influencers across 11 countries, and agency partners and marketers including Pizza Hut and Talabat.

The new features on AnyTag include automated recommendations of similar influencers through lookalike modeling of an influencer’s content, the detection of brands an influencer has worked with in the past, and the identification and visualization of hashtags an influencer frequently uses.

AnyTag also has a social media analytics module that enables users to track key statistics on a brand’s own social media channels, together with competitor analysis, hashtag analysis and interactions analysis to identify the performance of mentioned and tagged posts of a brand by social media users.

Arab News spoke to Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA, to discuss the evolution of influencer marketing from the days of YouTube and Facebook to Snapchat and TikTok.

Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA. (Supplied)

Influencer marketing has been around for a while. How has it changed and where is it at today?

Over the past two years, influencer marketing got a really big boost in popularity; in part, due to the fact that there were a lot of budgets to spend, which would otherwise have been spent on things like events and so on, which got canceled.

There was also a huge shift in how influencer marketing operated in the past two years because everybody was adapting to the new normal. So, we saw people trying out different platforms and topics. For example, travel influencers were no longer traveling so they would talk about other topics such as fitness.

With that shift in platforms, formats and topics, brands started to jump on to see if there were new ways to work with influencers that didn’t necessarily fit the brand before.

One of the most interesting things about influencer marketing in the region is that it has matured a lot — both from a client and influencer perspective.

What does that maturity look like for clients and how is it reflected in the marketing?

If the target audience wants something, you need to find a way to give it to them and put your brand in the messaging. And so brands have started to let go of the reins; they held on very tightly for the past five years because it’s very difficult to trust somebody from outside the organization to communicate on your behalf.

But, it’s about finding that sweet spot — how do I, as a brand, give them (influencers) guidelines but then let them create the content? That’s massive maturity for a brand.

As marketers maintain that balancing act between their own corporate guidelines and influencers’ creative freedom, what are the things that they need to keep in mind when working with influencers?

One of the key things is to let go of the reins a little bit. Another thing that you would think is quite basic, but is still so important, is choosing the right influencer — it’s so crucial to select the right influencer to work with.

A lot of brands are still looking at the number of followers an influencer has, and quite frankly that doesn’t give you much on what an influencer can do for you. That’s why we have a multi-point, data-driven approach through the AnyTag platform wherein we look at everything from influencers’ engagement metrics to demographics.

There also needs to be brand synergy. When people see this person talking about your brand, does it make sense or does it look forced? We also look at things like their collaboration history, which includes whether they have worked with competitors or have bad-mouthed the brand in the past.

Looking at the platform side of influencer marketing, how has that changed from it being predominantly Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to now Snapchat and TikTok?

Selecting the right platform is one of the most important things when we’re planning out a campaign and that comes down to the target audience. We’re also looking at the category, so, for example, when it comes to fashion, we know Instagram is inspirational and aspirational; with gamers, it’s YouTube.

The target audience and category work hand in hand. So, if I’m looking to target Gen Z, instantly our first thought is exploring TikTok. However, if I want to communicate with Saudi moms, I have to integrate Snapchat, because these target groups live and breathe TikTok and Snapchat respectively.

Then there’s also the format. Using the same examples, Gen Z and Saudi moms both like quick content formats so TikTok and Snapchat make sense versus older millennials who would like a good 15-minute IGTV video on an interesting topic.

Is there any particular platform that outperforms others for influencer marketing?

Looking at the campaigns we have run on AnyTag, I can see a clear preference for Instagram in the MENA region. The reason for that is the ease of use of the platform, a very high level of data availability, and the numerous content formats. Instagram really won the game with content formats because it has everything from Stories, to photos, to different video formats like Reels, which is quick, and IGTV, which is long-form.

So, Instagram dominated the space but TikTok also cemented its position last year and YouTube will always be a strong player for the MENA region because there are really strong technology and gaming influencers, as well as children’s channels, on the platform. In Saudi Arabia, however, I would rank Snapchat as high as Instagram, but that’s only in KSA as we don’t see much demand for it outside the Kingdom.


Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021
Updated 02 December 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021
  • WARC data reveals the advertising market grew to $771 billion

DUBAI: New advertising spend forecasts for 100 markets worldwide show that the global ad market grew 23.8 percent in 2021 to reach $771 billion and is on course to reach a value of $1 trillion in 2025, according to marketing intelligence firm WARC.

This year marks the strongest growth in the last four decades, with advertising investment forecasted to rise 12.5 percent in 2022 and 8.3 percent in 2023.

Data reveals that more than half of advertising spend is going to just three companies: Alphabet, Meta, and Amazon. According to a recent WARC survey, two out of three marketers who have already committed budgets to Amazon are intending to increase that spend.

Social media platforms are also forecasted to see increased advertising investment with advertising professionals planning to increase spending on TikTok (66 percent), YouTube (61 percent), Instagram (60 percent), and Google (57 percent) next year.

“Despite potential headwinds, market data show that we are currently witnessing a boom in advertising trade like none seen before, led by increased demand for retail media and ancillary publishers such as Google and Instagram, which is now the world’s largest social platform,” said James McDonald, director of data, intelligence and forecasting at WARC. 

When it comes to digital media, e-commerce is expected to lead the growth with Amazon on course to amass over $57 billion in advertising revenue by 2023 — a massive 72 percent increase from this year.

Social media was the fastest-growing online sector in 2021 with advertising spend rising by 41.9 percent. Instagram grew to become the largest social media platform in 2021 after overtaking the core Facebook platform for the first time and is forecasted to control over one-third of the global social media market in the next two years. TikTok’s ad revenue increased 51.5 percent this year and is expected to record growth of 75.4 percent in 2022.

Premium online video platforms YouTube and Amazon Prime Video were worth a combined $63.7 billion to advertisers in 2021, up 41.6 percent from a year earlier.

Search advertising continues to grow, making Alphabet the world’s largest media owner and Google the largest individual platform. Google’s advertising revenue rose by 40.6 percent to $146.3 billion this year — taking 79.7 percent of all search spend and 19 percent of all advertising spend worldwide. Google’s growth is set to ease to 14.8 percent in 2022.

With podcasts and music streaming increasing in popularity, advertising spend on online audio rose by one-third to $5.4 billion in 2021, with podcast spend up 50.9 percent and streaming up 28.4 percent. Both formats are expected to continue to grow with the online audio sector’s worth increasing to $8.3 billion by 2023.

With regards to traditional media, advertiser spend on TV grew 5.5 percent this year and is projected to grow by 3.3 percent next year. Linear TV is set to remain larger than premium video services such as YouTube and Amazon Prime Video, though its share of global ad spend will dip below a fifth as broadcaster’s video-on-demand services attract incremental spend.

The out-of-home market recorded a recovery of 21.8 percent this year, but it was not enough to offset the 28.2 percent decline recorded in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak first brought the world to a standstill. 

The pandemic’s impact was also evident in the cinema advertising sector, as spend heavily declined in 2020 by 71.2 percent. However, this year, spending rebounded to record a rise of 149.9 percent as cinemas opened back up and big movie releases hit the theaters.

Investment in broadcast radio ads rose by 8.4 percent this year and is set to grow by 3.5 percent in 2022 and 1.5 percent in 2023, by when the market will be worth $34.3 billion. This makes it the only legacy medium set to record continuous growth over the forecast period.

Advertising spend on print and online news brands dipped by 4 percent this year, while the magazines market was down 6.6 percent.

“New coronavirus variants, such as omicron, may have a negative impact on our current outlook, and while our base scenario assumes that impact is muted, we will continue to review that position each quarter,” said McDonald.

That said, some companies will remain immune to the effects COVID-19. “Amazon is expected to finish the year with an ad business worth $12 billion more than the start of the outbreak, the newly anointed Meta will be $31 billion wealthier, and Alphabet drew an additional $59 billion from brands before costs,” he added.


Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good
Updated 03 December 2021

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good
  • Facebook fights antitrust lawsuit that demands it sell Instagram and WhatsApp

WASHINGTON: Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook has asked a US court to dismiss and not allow the refiling of an antitrust lawsuit by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requests that the company sell two major subsidiaries, photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp.

In its court filing, Facebook argued that the FTC had “no plausible factual support” for its claim that the company has the market clout to push up prices in the social network market. The social media giant also said the FTC failed to “plausibly establish” that Facebook acted illegally to protect a monopoly.

Facebook also pressed again for FTC Chair Lina Khan to be recused from the matter, arguing that her participation in a vote to approve the lawsuit was improper because of her criticism of the company before she joined the agency.

The FTC’s high-profile case against Facebook represents one of the biggest challenges the government has brought against a tech company in decades, and is being closely watched as Washington aims to tackle Big Tech’s extensive market power. 

The FTC had originally sued Facebook during the Trump administration, and its complaint was rejected by the court. It filed an amended complaint in August, adding more details to its accusation that the social media company crushed or bought rivals, and once again asking a judge to force the company to sell Instagram and WhatsApp. 

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 26-page filing.

The case is being tried by Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.