Extremists using Steam gaming service to connect, socialise, and recruit

Extremists using Steam gaming service to connect, socialise, and recruit

Popular gaming distribution service Steam is host to a number of active far-right and neo-Nazi community groups. The information comes from a new study the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) carried out on the role of gaming and its intersection with extremism. According to the report, Steam is “a hub for individual extremists to connect and socialise”. And the platform has offered a haven for these individuals and groups since at least 2016 from which they can “provide off-ramps to ideological content and other social media platforms, suggesting that Steam is being used to recruit to specific movements”. 

Paramilitary groups

Written by Pierre Vaux, Aoife Gallagher, and Jacob Davey, Gaming and Extremism: The Extreme Right on Steam, the ISD published the report on 12 August. It’s also the first in a series which examines online gaming and what role it “plays in the strategy of far-right extremists in the UK and globally”. 

For the report the authors looked at 45 groups on Steam “associated with the extreme right”. They identified these groups using keywords linked to far-right views, ranked them based on content, and added groups which focused on the UK. From here they carried out qualitative analysis of the groups which involved reading the public content and looking at links users posted to the group which led to material elsewhere. 

Of the communities they found, six were openly neo-Nazi, two were linked to “Terrorist or paramilitary groups”, four were linked to white nationalist movements, and four were associated with “Far-right political parties”. But the researchers also cautioned that readers should view the report “as a snapshot” of a potentially larger trend on Steam. 

A far-right “community”

The report highlights that the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) is one of the paramilitary groups which has a presence on Steam. According to the authors, the NMR is “the only group in the sample examined by the ISD known to have engaged in terrorist attacks”. Its community page on Steam appears to “act as a hub for the movement”, containing links to its official website. 

Another group the researchers found is Misanthropic Division (MD). Taking its name from a Russian neo-Nazi organisation, it has branches in multiple European countries. Although its Steam group contained “little public content” the report argues that, similar to the NMR’s Steam group, it’s “likely that it acts as a community hub connecting individuals who support neo-Nazism”. 

But the researchers also discovered a large amount of neo-Nazism across the 45 groups which had “no direct affiliation with extremist organisations”. In these groups the researchers observed “widespread racism” as well as coded language which referred to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Similarly, “anti-Muslim hatred was apparent across many of the groups”, but especially those linked to far-right groups and ethnonationalism.  

As for why extremists and the far right are using Steam, the report indicates there are numerous reasons. One is that people can use certain games they play to highlight their political beliefs. Such games might be misogynistic or pro-Donald Trump. But this was limited. Instead, most of the games associated with the groups the researchers examined were “generic” in nature. The most common one was Counter-Strike: Global Operations, a popular first-person shooter.

In fact, it appears the most common reason for the far right and extremists to use Steam is “to build community around the shared hobby of gaming”. Steam allows extremists to “connect and game” with like-minded individuals but also serve as a recruitment tool. According to the ISD, this shows that “Steam fits into the wider extreme right wing online ecosystem”.

In closing, the authors point out that their research demonstrates that Steam could be providing “a variety of pathways towards radicalisation for gamers”. 

Over the last 17 months the ISD has warned of the role various social media platforms play in spreading far-right and extremist content. In April the organisation published a paper looking at the Irish far right’s use of Telegram, arguing that the platform allows extremists to recruit, organise, and spread disinformation. 

Featured image via Pexels 

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