It seems not even games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, or even Minecraft are safe from far-right hate groups these days. Recently, a former white supremacist who became a peace advocate confirmed what was widely speculated: hate groups use these and other popular games to prey on impressionable young players.
Christian Picciolini, a former member of the Chicago Area Skinheads, took to Reddit to go on the record and field questions. He was first recruited in 1987 at age 14 and stayed a member until 1996 when he was 22.
Writing in his Reddit Ask Me Anything, Picciolini shared some disturbing details about just how hate groups exploit these games to actively recruit and convert.
“We sought marginalized youth and promised them ‘paradise,'” he said. “Today they are using nefarious tactics like going to depression and mental health forums and in multiplayer gaming to recruit those same people.”
That in itself is deeply disturbing. These players are already suffering from mental health issues, making them that much more vulnerable. To prey on that is just evil.
One reddit user brought up multiplayer games and asked if “white supremacists have people who just sit and play Overwatch, League, that type of thing and just spam their slurs or what is that tactic like?”
According to Picciolini, “They drop benign hints and then ramp up when hooked.”
So it seemingly amounts to a baiting tactic — a twisted version of phishing but instead of phishing for user information, they are phishing for those who would be the best to recruit for their ideology.
Picciolini further went on to say that most of these so-called “recruiters” hail from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Poland. Because Fortnite and Minecraft target kids between the ages of 3 to 15, they are prime sources for recruiters. Call of Duty is aimed at older players, aged 17 to 18 and above, but it’s not uncommon for kids to play.
Parents should take heed and watch who their children are interacting with on these platforms. If you suspect someone is using gaming networks like PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, or even Switch online multiplayer, utilize the built-in tools to report and flag those accounts immediately.
You have to give Picciolini credit for coming out to do a full-on discussion and live Q&A to help make people more aware of what seems to be a growing and very scary problem.
According to his intro post, after soul searching, self-reflection, and trying to atone for more than 20 years, he co-founded a non-profit in 2009 Life After Hate. More recently in 2018, he created the Free Radicals Project to help educate the public on issues relating to “far-right extremism and radicalization.” He also wants to help people disengage themselves from these hate groups and tolerate and accept others regardless of skin color, religious background, and sexual preference.
Hopefully by revealing this insider information, younger players, their parents, and the gaming networks themselves can step up to combat recruiters. These are meant to be fun games and no one should be influenced to think or act a certain way by playing their favorite games. It’s just not fair to younger players who don’t know any better.
Head over here to read the full Reddit AMA with Christian Picciolini.