Posted on March 17, 2024

The Feds Are Coming for “Extremist” Gamers

Ken Klippenstein, The Intercept, March 9, 2024

GAMING COMPANIES ARE coordinating with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to root out so-called domestic violent extremist content, according to a new government report. Noting that mechanisms have been established with social media companies to police extremism, the report recommends that the national security agencies establish new and similar processes with the vast gaming industry.

The exact nature of the cooperation between federal agencies and video game companies, which has not been previously reported, is detailed in a new Government Accountability Office report. The report draws on interviews conducted with five gaming and social media companies including Roblox, an online gaming platform; Discord, a social media app commonly used by gamers; Reddit; as well as a game publisher and social media company that asked the GAO to remain anonymous.

The Intercept reached out to the companies identified in the GAO report for comment, but none responded on the record at time of publication.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have mechanisms to share and receive domestic violent extremism threat-related information with social media and gaming companies,” the GAO says. The report reveals that the DHS intelligence office meets with gaming companies and that the companies can use these meetings to “share information with I&A [DHS’s intelligence office] about online activities promoting domestic violent extremism,” or even simply “activities that violate the companies’ terms of service.” Through its 56 field offices and hundreds of resident agencies subordinate field offices, the FBI receives tips from gaming companies of potential law-breaking and extremist views for further investigation. The FBI also conducts briefings to gaming companies on purported threats.

The GAO warns that FBI and DHS lack an overarching strategy to bring its work with gaming companies in line with broader agency missions. {snip} The report ends with a recommendation that both agencies develop such a strategy — a recommendation that DHS concurred with, providing an estimated completion date of June 28 this year.

“All I can think of is the awful track record of the FBI when it comes to identifying extremism,” Hasan Piker, a popular Twitch streamer who often streams while playing video games under the handle HasanAbi, says of the mechanisms. “They’re much better at finding vulnerable teenagers with mental disabilities to take advantage of.”

The GAO’s investigation, which covers September 2022 to January 2024, was undertaken at the request of the House Homeland Security Committee, which asked the government auditor to examine domestic violent extremists’ use of gaming platforms and social media. While there is no federal law that criminalizes domestic violent extremism as a category of crime, since 2019 the U.S. government has employed five domestic terrorism threat categories. These are defined by the FBI and DHS as racial/ethnically motivated violent extremism, anti-government/anti-authority violent extremism, animal rights or environmental violent extremism, abortion-related violent extremism, and all other domestic terror threats.

The GAO study also follows pressure from Congress to top gaming companies to crack down on extremist content. Last March, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent letters to gaming companies Valve, Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, Riot Games, Roblox Corp, and Take-Two Interactive demanding that they take actions to police gamers.