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Review: Hacking Hate


- Simon Klose's documentary exposes the grim realities of modern extremism, from right-wing ideology to psy-ops trying destabilise Western democracies

Review: Hacking Hate

Swedish documentary producer and director Simon Klose received the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival for his film Hacking Hate (see the news). The documentary provides a stark and unflinching examination of the rise of right-wing extremism and the pervasive spread of hate speech across social media platforms by following My Vingren, a Swedish investigative journalist known for her in-depth investigations into white supremacist networks. Vingren, who has earned the nickname "real-life Lisbeth Salander" due to her investigative prowess, employs deep research and the creation of fictitious online personas to infiltrate and expose far-right groups operating on the internet. Throughout the documentary, Klose closely observes Vingren as she dives into yet another rabbit hole of right-wing extremism.

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Vingren's investigation begins with tracking a right-wing influencer known as 'Golden One'. Shortly after establishing her fake online persona, Vingren receives an invitation to join a secretive neo-nazi group, saturated with antisemitic, islamophobic, and anti-immigrant content. She quickly pinpoints one individual managing several accounts, and as the investigation unfolds, the network of connections within the white supremacist community thickens. Klose chose to focus on a single investigation, turning the documentary into a detailed case study, and follows Vingren through the stages of identifying and infiltrating the group, uncovering intricate details, and revealing the key figures behind it. This approach exposes the inner workings, motivations, and methods behind the proliferation of hate content. A significant breakthrough occurs when Vingren identifies a pivotal yet mysterious figure, known only as Vincent, who appears to orchestrate and manage multiple supremacist groups. The pursuit of Vincent leads to deeper insights into the structures and strategies of extremist groups.

As Vingren zeroes in on a concrete suspect, the documentary transforms into a character-driven cyber-crime thriller. Her meticulous and tireless efforts uncover another piece in the complex puzzle of disinformation warfare. Klose, alongside his team of collaborators, including cinematographers Iván Blanco and Tony Johansson and editor Nicholas Nørgaard Staffolani, harnesses the rhythm and twists typical of a thriller to craft an engaging investigative narrative. However, the filmmaker doesn't rely solely on the undercover investigation. He also incorporates the more conventional documentary tool of talking heads, which allows him to offer expert insights and contextual commentary, enhancing the film’s depth and broadening the perspective on the online neo-nazi environment that Vingren infiltrates. 

In her discussions with field experts, Vingren notably engages with Anika Collier Navaroli, the whistleblower responsible for Donald Trump's removal from Twitter, and Imran Ahmed, a researcher sued by Elon Musk for exposing hate speech on the platform now known as X. Although these talking head segments provide a pause from the swift descent into the supremacist underworld that somewhat dilutes the intensity of the film's docu-thriller aspect, they also offer pertinent testimonies that broaden the documentary's scope. The narrative expands beyond the specifics of online hate speech and digital extremism to encompass the broader structural flaws of social media platforms. The insights from Navaroli and Ahmed illuminate the systemic issues at play, particularly the intersection of profit motives and the spread of harmful content.  

Hacking Hate serves as a sobering and revealing exposé on the commodification of internet hate. While films such as How to Build a Truth Engine [+see also:
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explore the biological and sociological reasons behind the proliferation of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech, Klose's documentary focuses intently on a specific case to better deconstruct the methods used, while unveiling the true motivations behind the commercialisation of hate speech. Vingren makes clear that right-wing influencers delivering fascism-as-a-service, with funding from foreign countries, are in fact participating in influence operations and psy-ops created to destabilise democracies, while utilising online radicalisation as a recruiting tool.

Hacking Hate was produced by Sweden's Nonami and co-produced by Denmark's Elk Film, Norway's Fuglene and Sweden's SVT and Film I Skåne, in collaboration with DR, VGTV and YES TV.

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