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Social networks have struggled to figure out how to handle issues like threats of violence and the presence of hate groups on their platforms. But a new study suggests that attempts to limit the latter run up against a serious problem: the networks formed by hate group members are remarkably resilient, and they will migrate from network to network, keeping and sometimes expanding their connections in the process. The study does offer a few suggestions for how to limit the impact of these groups, but many of the suggestions will require the intervention of actual humans, rather than the algorithms most social networks favor.

Finding the "hate highways"

The work, done by researchers at George Washington and Miami Universities, focused on networks of racist groups, centered on the US' KKK. To do this, the researchers tracked the presence of racist groups on two major social networks: Facebook and a Russia-based network called VKontakte. The researchers crafted an automated system that could identify interest groups that shared links with each other. It would chart these connections iteratively, continuing until the process simply re-identified previously known groups. The system tracked links to other social sites like Instagram, but it doesn't iterate within those sites.

The authors confirmed this worked by performing a similar analysis manually. Satisfied, the team then tracked daily changes for an extended period of 2018. Through this, they identified more than 768 nodes formed by members of the white supremacy movement. Other nodes were identified, but these tended to be things like pornography or illicit materials, so they were ignored for this study.

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