George Selim's Testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Regarding Mass Violence, Extremism, and Digital Responsibility

Remarks by George Selim, Senior Vice President for Programs, ADL

September 18, 2019

Washington, D.C., September 18, 2019

My name is George Selim, I serve as the Senior Vice President of Programs at ADL, the Anti-Defamation League.  For decades, ADL has fought against bigotry and anti-Semitism by exposing extremist groups and individuals who spread hate and incite violence. Today, ADL is the foremost nongovernmental authority on domestic terrorism, extremism, hate groups and hate crimes. I have personally served in several roles in the government’s national security apparatus, at the Dept of Justice, Dept of Homeland Security, and White House National Security Council, and now at ADL.

In my testimony, I would like to share with you some key data, findings, analysis, and urge you to take action to counter a severe national security threat – that of online white supremacist extremism that threatens our communities.

The alleged El Paso shooter posted a manifesto to 8chan prior to the attack.  He expressed support for the accused shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand who also used 8chan.  Before the massacre in Poway, California, the alleged shooter posted a link to his manifesto on 8chan, offering the same kind of white supremacist tropes as the shooters in New Zealand and in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life attack.  

Three killing sprees, three white supremacist manifestos. One targeted Muslims, another Jews, the third Latinx and immigrants. One thing these three men had in common was 8chan, an online platform that has become a go-to for many bigots and extremists.

Unfettered access to online platforms – both fringe and mainstream – has significantly driven the scale, speed, and effectiveness of extremist attacks. 

Our research shows that domestic extremist violence is trending up, and that anti-Semitic hate is trending up. FBI data shows similar trends. 

The online environment amplifies hateful voices worldwide and facilitates coordination, recruitment, and propaganda that fuels the extremism that terrorizes our communities—all of our communities.  Whether through government, the private sector, or civil society – immediate action is paramount to prevent the next tragedy that takes innocent lives.

ADL has worked with the platforms represented at this table to try to address the hate that is rampant online. We have been part of conversations about improving their terms of service and content moderation programs, and better support for those experiencing hate and harassment on the platforms. We appreciate this work, but there is much more to be done.

ADL has called on the companies at this hearing and many others to be far more transparent about the prevalence and nature of hate on their platforms. We need meaningful transparency that give actionable information to all stakeholders.

But the growth of hate and extremist violence will not be solved simply by addressing them online.

We urge immediate action. 

First, our nation’s leaders must clearly and forcefully call out bigotry at every opportunity.

Our nation’s law enforcement leadership must make enforcing hate crime laws a top priority.

Our communities need Congress’ immediate action in a range of ways, notably to codify federal offices to address domestic terrorism and extremism, and create transparent and comprehensive reporting, such as that required by the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act and similar measures in the Domestic Terrorism DATA Act. 

Congress should explore whether it is possible to craft a rights-protecting domestic terrorism statute.  Any statute Congress would seriously consider should include specific, careful Congressional and civil liberties oversight to ensure the spirit of such protections are faithfully executed.  In addition, the State Department should examine whether certain foreign white supremacist groups meet the criteria for a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. 

For technology and social media companies – we look forward to companies expanding terms of service, exploring accountability and governance challenges, aspiring to greater transparency in how you address these issues, and partnering with civil society to help in these efforts.

ADL stands at the ready to help any of you – government or private sector – better address the threat of online extremism.  This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to protect our communities.

I look forward to your questions, and I welcome  our collective efforts to address these threats in the future.  Thank you.