Tech giants have come under new fire after an investigation uncovered hundreds of thousands of hate profiles online.
Research by the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) has uncovered a “hate of racial hatred” on Twitter and Facebook and among the gaming community.
This has led to a call for stricter regulations six months after public outcry over the abuse of three black England footballers.
Professor Matthew Feldman, director of CARR, told the PA News Agency: “It’s always incredibly easy to find a breeding ground for racial hatred on social media.
“It makes you wonder what the point of moderation is when some of these obvious, overt, and in some cases inciting violence narratives can literally last for years without consequences, and certainly not at all.
“This material is disgusting and makes it seem like the platforms just don’t care enough about dealing with this common plague.”
Some usernames – or “handles” – have blatantly mocked and even proud of Twitter’s terms of service, Professor Feldman added, saying, “What good is the use of pretending to exercise moderation when this content is just one click away?
“Is Facebook really unable to moderate Holocaust celebrations because of the weird apostrophe?”
“It doesn’t matter if you have billions of users if the most vulnerable are subjected to this kind of abuse over and over again, and seemingly without protection or action.”
He said platforms have a “duty of care” to users, but only government regulation and the threat of tens of millions of fines will make any changes.
“Otherwise, these platforms will remain reactive – badly – rather than proactive in eradicating hate extremism,” Professor Feldman said.
Last July, England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.
Twitter deleted more than 1,900 tweets, but admitted it had to do better.
Six months later, CARR researchers searched for profiles using single words and phrases as indicators of “systemic failure” over two days in January.
They found around 300 Twitter users or profile names derived from a racist phrase, including the N word, dating as far back as 2009.
Dr Edward Gillbard, who conducted the research, said the majority had minimal interaction, with fewer than two subscribers and after fewer than two accounts.
He said: “It is not clear whether this lack of interaction reduces the chances that the account will be seen by ‘normal’ Twitter users and therefore less likely to be reported.
“Regardless, it would appear that no automatic moderation is performed by Twitter in terms of scanning existing accounts for offensive usernames containing (the N word), and no moderation when it is. This is to initially set your username or identifier to contain the same term.
CARR’s Dr Bethan Johnson has identified dozens of offensive Facebook profiles, including 83 variations of “hate (N-word)” and 91 of the Holocaust.
Others included the name of Adolf Hitler and other prominent Nazis, as well as the names of mass killers such as the attacker at the Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand.
By changing spelling or inserting spaces and special characters, the profiles seemed to trick moderation systems, she suggested.
Dr Johnson said the results showed “significant room for improvement”.
She said: “In the case of Facebook, it could be that when users create profiles with names that clearly mock and flout community standards – from ‘Jewkilla’ to ‘Nate Higgers’ – they are telling Facebook what kind of user they will be, what kind of ideas they bring to the platform, and the reality is, it’s far from community-driven.
An analysis of the digital game service Steam revealed more than 300,000 offensive profile names.
Of these, 241,729 were anti-black, 44,368 white supremacists, over 28,000 neo-Nazis, 8,021 anti-Semites, 5,607 homophobes and 168 anti-Muslims.
More than 100 names of racist and far-right profiles have been identified in the Fortnite game and 34 others in Rainbow Six Siege, of which 18 were active.
Although not exhaustive, Dr Gillbard, of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, suggested that the material was “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“In order to discover the full extent of the problem, increased access and cooperation of these platforms and services is needed.
“Also, when it comes to games, abuse and offensive language found in text and voice chats is a much worse problem than the types of usernames highlighted here,” he said.
Last month, a separate report estimated that there were nearly half a million explicitly anti-Semitic tweets per year – two for every Jew in the UK.
Danny Stone MBE, chief executive of the Anti-Semitism Policy Trust which co-published the report, told PA: Selling our data but failing to properly protect people from harm.
“We have policies that are not properly enforced, racism on a large scale, abuse targeted.
“Big Tech has no urgency in preventing the spread of damage through its systems.
“Hopefully the next online safety bill and legislation across the world will force social media companies to take better care of their users because they don’t seem in a rush to help.”
A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said hate speech was not allowed on its platforms and “violator” Facebook accounts were removed after they were reported.
He added, “If we find any content that violates our policies, including the use of symbols, emojis or misspellings attempting to beat our systems, we will remove it. “
Twitter also said that accounts identified by CARR were now “permanently suspended” for “violating our hateful conduct policy.”
A spokesperson said: “We recognize and wish to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that Twitter does not become a forum that facilitates abuse and we continue to examine our own policy approaches and ways to enforce our rules quickly and broadly. ladder. “
A spokesperson for Fortnite developer Epic Games said, “A lot of those usernames are no longer on our systems and we have taken action against the additional usernames provided.
“Usernames that include vulgarity, hate speech, offensive or derogatory speech of any kind violate our community’s rules. “
Epic Games has no control over the names of the consoles but has passed on the details to the companies involved.
PA understands that Rainbow Six Siege profiles have been reset with random names and all offending images removed.
Users will receive a warning from the creator of the Ubisoft game as a first sanction and will not be able to change their username for the next 30 days.
A spokesperson for Ubisoft said the company “does not tolerate any form of bullying or harassment.”
The company is taking “concrete action” to tackle “toxic” behavior, and violations of its code of conduct could result in sanctions, including bans, he said.
While automated processes weren’t “foolproof,” teams are constantly working to improve them, he added.
PA has contacted Steam for a response.