Even though the events of January 6 were shocking to many and appeared to catch unprepared law enforcement by surprise, plans to storm the Capitol have been floating around on social media for weeks.
Calls for protest were hiding in plain sight of far-right and mainstream social media platforms. Yet social media moderators largely chose to ignore these plans.
On pro-Trump forum TheDonald, which was formed after Reddit banned the subreddit of the same name in July 2020, one post from 4 days ago asked what would happen if Congress did not reject the results of the 2020 election.
The top voted response was, “Storm the Capitol”.
Calls for violence were among the top 5 comments on more than half of the post discussing Congress’s counting of the electoral votes. Had moderators on the platform shared this information, perhaps the surprise attack on the Capitol would not have been such a surprise at all.
Shockingly, warnings of a possible riot weren’t isolated to the dark corners of the pro-Trump web.
On TikTok. videos promoting violence circulated to app users. Many encouraged a siege and told Trump supporters to ignore Washington D.C. gun laws by bringing illegal weapons.
Days later, a woman was shot dead in the Capitol as a mob stormed the building, smashing windows and tousling with police.
Parler, which has been the home to much anti-democratic sentiment since the election, united supporters of Trump, QAnon, and far-right groups as one in preparation for yesterday’s events.
Yesterday, users of the app shared images of their weapons and stated, “the war begins today”.
One post, featuring a GIF of a noose, had the following caption: “Who would you like to see 'dispatched' first? 1) Nancy Pelosi 2) John Roberts 3) Pence 4) other (please name) I was leaning towards Nancy, but it might have to be Pence.”
Later protestors would break into Pelosi’s office and sit in the seat Mike Pence had been conducting Senate proceedings from moments earlier.
Another social media platform that couldn’t escape the clutches of pro-Trump extremists is Telegram which proved to be a vital weapon in the far-right arsenal ahead of the Capitol protests.
What is Telegram?
Telegram, an encrypted chat platform that conservative extremists have been flocking to for years is at the center of this organized attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Russian-founded app became a popular choice for neo-Nazis and right extremists in 2019 after the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand caused other mainstream platforms to stamp down on white nationalism, separatism, and Nazism.
The extremist content ranges from racist and discriminatory memes to propaganda images that glorify violence. The platform is also home to digital libraries containing texts like Mein Kampf and instruction on how to build your own weapons.
Telegram was also used by ISIS back in 2015 as a hub for organizing Islamic militantism. The platform eventually cracked down on the extremist groups but the same rules have not been applied to white nationalism.
The privacy features and end-to-end encrypted messages on Telegram make it well-suited for garnering support for hate groups that would be deleted from other platforms.
Group chats can feature up to 200,000 people without moderation, live broadcasts can be streamed by an unlimited audience, and prohibitions of violence are loosely enforced, if at all.
After over a year of growing extremism on the app, Telegram made its first attempts to weed out some far-right groups in late 2020 by deleting several neo-Nazi groups from the platform.
But it’s possible that all this was too little too late. By giving far-right extremists a platform to connect and share ideas for so long, the damage may have already been done. Even without their key neo-Nazi groups, militant Trump and QAnon supporters were still able to mobilize on the app and spread violent ideals.
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It's been reported that the Iranian militia group IRGC even covered the riots minute-by-minute on Telegram.
This kind of violent protest is glorified on the app, making it difficult not to question the place such a platform has in the modern media.
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Alice Kelly is a writer who covers news and trending pieces. She has a passion for politics and social justice issues.