Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Extremism Machine: Exploring the Effects of Digital Capitalism on the Far-Right Field

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posted on 2024-03-25, 21:44 authored by Angus Lindsay

Major technological advances brought about by the technology industry have reconfigured capitalist social relations. Digital Capitalism relies on and is driven by the accumulation, analysis and commodification of digital data through complex algorithmic technologies. There are fears that these new technologies have enabled and extended a multitude of intersecting harms. In particular, there is concern that such digital technologies are being increasingly utilised to support the growth of violent extremism and terrorism. This fear was placed at the forefront on March 15th, 2019, when a white supremacist terrorist committed two consecutive attacks on separate Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The terrorist’s use of the internet to disseminate his manifesto and to livestream the attacks enabled him to project immense harm across the globe. Five years on, social media and digital messaging applications are still being used as tools to motivate, organise and sustain xenophobic violence and to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories.

There is a lack of consensus around methods to effectively curb the harms of online violent extremism. States and technology providers struggle to agree on effective regulation that balances the principles of an open and free internet with the protection of those who are harmed by exclusionary ideas. This thesis interrogates the underpinning structures that give rise to online and in-person hate and identifies how the contemporary socio-technical context has assisted in the spread and cross-pollination of far-right extremist ideas. It does so firstly by developing a novel theoretical framework of Digital Racial Capitalism and unpacks the intersection between histories of racial capitalism and the contemporary moment of digital capitalism. It conducts research specific to Aotearoa New Zealand through semi-structured interviews (n = 28) with representatives from the State, the Technology Sector and Frontline Anti-Fascist Activists to identify the major challenges in responding to far-right extremism within the contemporary system of digital racial capitalism.

The findings of this research reveal that despite genuine attempts from regulatory bodies across the globe there are a myriad of barriers currently in place to effectively disempower far-right extremists from spreading their worldviews. One of the key barriers that the thesis focuses on is located within the system of digital capitalism itself. Through the affordances of ‘big-tech’ platforms and technologies that engage us in a variety of ways to keep us engaged and online, we amount to data-generating resources. Simultaneously, we are exposed to a variety of harms that transcend the illegal/legal binary and actions that structure the way we understand the world around us.

Overall, this thesis provides a novel way of thinking about structure versus agency by reconnecting the history of racial capitalism to the present-day, and highlighting that the power of the technology industry is such that due to various assertions of power, effectively resists meaningful attempts to rein in harmful externalities. The thesis concludes by suggesting that although nascent attempts to harmonise legal mechanisms to strengthen international regulation are admireable, underscoring the affordances of the platform economy are embedded structural exclusions that lie at the centre of the capitalist system. To focus only on enforcement against those who spread and enact the socially corrosive, racist and violent ideas misses the broader picture of a (digital) society that creates the socially permissive space to hate in the first place, and the digital racial capitalist environment that profits from such division.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Criminology; Philosophy; Political Science; Social Science Research; Sociology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Institute of Criminology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280123 Expanding knowledge in human society; 280116 Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture; 280108 Expanding knowledge in economics; 280119 Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Mackenzie, Simon; Stanley, Elizabeth