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DHS will spend nearly $700,000 to investigate ‘radicalization in gaming’

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has awarded a $699,763 grant to terrorism and security researchers to “study the cross section of extremism and gaming,” Vice reports.

“Over the past decade, video games have increasingly become focal points of social activity and identity creation for adolescents and young adults. Relationships made and fostered within game ecosystems routinely cross over into the real world and are impactful parts of local communities,” the grant announcement states. “Correspondingly, extremists have used video games and targeted video game communities for activities ranging from propaganda creation to terrorist mobilization and training.”

Vice explains that the money is going to a joint venture between the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies; Take This, a nonprofit specializing in mental health in video gaming; and Logically, a company working to change online behavior.

The project will create a “set of best practices and centralized resources for monitoring and evaluation of extremist activities as well as a series of training workshops for the monitoring, detection, and prevention of extremist exploitation in gaming spaces for community managers, multiplayer designers, lore developers, mechanics designers, and trust and safety professionals,” the DHS announcement states.

The grant comes at a time when the federal government is increasingly concerned about the political radicalization of American citizens. While the DHS and other government agencies have spent the past several decades primarily concerned with terrorism in the Middle East, greater attention has been turned to perceived domestic threats. In a statement earlier this week, President Biden stated that “domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy is the greatest terrorist threat to our Homeland today.” The CTEC has long been an active researcher into this perceived threat.

This effort is the latest in a long-standing concern over the effects of video games on adolescents. While privacy experts have yet to weigh in on the impact of the DHS’s latest funding, pro-privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have maintained that in recent months, gamers are facing “more threats to their freedoms than ever before.”

Still, groups like CTEC believe the latest iteration of video games pose a unique challenge. “Games are becoming increasingly social … those social hooks provide the structures and the infrastructure for extremists to organize, mobilize and spread their hateful and extreme ideologies,” said Alex Newhouse, the deputy director at CTEC.