How Australia’s far right is using cryptocurrencies to monetize hate online | Crypto-currencies
There have never been so many ways to ask for money on the Internet. For right-wing extremists looking to monetize hate, this can be a great opportunity – and the earning potential of these digital assets has not gone unnoticed in Australia.
Earlier this year, I tracked fundraising networks associated with a sample of Australian channels that share far-right content on the Telegram chat app, and found links to at least 22 fundraising tools. in line. These included donation requests via wallet addresses for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, monero, ethereum, and litecoin.
Of course, an interest in cryptocurrencies is not in itself an indication of racism or extremism, but a recent analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that a cohort of white supremacists largely originated from North America likely generated “a substantial profit” from Bitcoin by entering early, giving them access to funds “which would almost certainly be inaccessible to them without cryptocurrency.”
Stefan Molyneux, a controversial figure in Canadian “alternative law”, who denies being a white supremacist but was rejected YouTube for comment on women and “scientific racism,” has received at least 1,250 bitcoins from supporters according to the SPLC (one Bitcoin was worth A $ 68,647 at the time of writing).
Australia’s far right takes note
As it was posted in March on a Telegram channel associated with Blair Cottrell, who was convicted by a Victorian court of inciting hatred of Muslims in 2017: “Crypto is actually making a lot of our guys rich.”
While bitcoin may have yielded disappointing profits for right-wing extremists ‘early adopters’, privacy coins like monero – which attempt to obscure the origin and destination of transactions – also appear to be on the rise. adopted by far-right groups.
After Thomas Sewell of the National Socialist Network was charged this year with a number of offenses relating to an alleged assault and alleged armed robbery, a donation campaign was launched to cover the legal costs of the Australian. In December alone, requests for support for bitcoin and monero donation were shared on Telegram channels associated with far-right American and Australian livestreamers with tens of thousands of followers, as well as linked accounts. to the Australian anti-lock movement. Sewell pleads not guilty to the charges against him.
Australian far-right donation requests – albeit for legal fees as well as for content creation or lifestyle needs – can be used to strengthen connections with subscribers and provide the opportunity to engage with international networks.
“It’s easier for Joe Blow to donate”
While this activity is not illegal, Insight Threat Intelligence president and terrorist financing expert Jessica Davis says in other cases regulators are challenged by the blurred line between fundraising that supports activities such as the creation of propaganda and the risk that some extremists may use it to support acts of terror.
One of the most significant terrorist attacks associated with far-right ideology of recent years does not appear to have been directly supported by external funding. The New Zealand Royal Commission on the Christchurch Terrorist Attack in 2019 concluded that the terrorist was self-funded. But the money was always a big part of the picture. The terrorist made at least 14 donations using PayPal and Bitcoin to groups and individuals who promoted far-right views.
Davis says that in some cases donating to extremists “starts to show how seriously people take this propaganda.”
It can be tempting to see far-right fundraising as something that goes well outside of the financial systems we use to buy lunch or book flights. And yet, even in my Australian sample, traditional services like PayPal and crowdfunding sites like Buy Me a Coffee remain popular.
And as cryptocurrencies become more and more mainstream, their use becomes more and more fluid – a development that will have implications for monitoring and regulation. A professor of computer science at Elon University and co-author of the SPLC analysis, Dr Megan Squire, points to website plugins like BitPay, which help facilitate smooth cryptocurrency payments.
“The technology and some simple interface solutions can start to… lower the barrier to entry and make it easier for the user of ‘Joe Blow’ to donate,” she says.
Davis has also observed the growing adoption of what she calls “the financial craft” that makes it harder for investigators to follow the trail, including methods of hiding which wallets are receiving funds.
The digital currencies created by entertainment and communication platforms further complicate the picture. Perhaps the best known of these projects is Facebook’s struggling Libra project. The company behind the Telegram chat app has also started a blockchain and cryptocurrency project despite its reputation for not controlling extremist content. The company closed it after the pushback from the US Security and Exchange Commission.
Then there is the blockchain-based Odysee. Viewers can support content creators using a cryptocurrency called LBRY Credits or cash tips. While a number of far-right Australian content creators use Odysee’s video platform, the ultimate motive is unclear: it’s just as likely to be used as a backup for videos that could be removed from YouTube only as a fundraising tool.
“Keeping the secret is easier now”
But there are potential points of pressure and control for far-right fundraising, such as cryptocurrency exchanges – where fiat currencies can be converted. Some cryptocurrency exchanges already have terms of service that prohibit hate speech and other activities. Coinbase, for example, reportedly blocked transfers to famed neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer in 2017. Earlier this year, the company’s user agreement explicitly prohibited uses that “encourage hatred, racial intolerance, or acts of violence against others ”.
The pressure to remove extreme right-wing individuals and groups from funding platforms has generally been the result of public pressure. Following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, for example, PayPal and other services came under pressure to delete accounts used by personalities involved in the event. Similar pressure arose after the January 6 uprising, which also provided an opportunity to create content online and ask for donations from a number of far-right actors. However, there is growing concern about the power these payment tools have to delete accounts for all types of users, often without transparency or recourse.
Given this new spotlight, Squire says we could see another far-right push for cryptocurrencies. “The technology for keeping the secret is a lot better now than it was in 2017 after Unite the Right in Charlottesville, which was the last big time a lot of these guys switched to crypto,” she says.
“There are more rooms, there are more services. It’s more difficult to master. “