Far right attracts recruits using COVID-19 conspiracy theories, alongside misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, study finds



Protesters march through central London to protest Covid-19 measures, including vaccine passports, warrants and vaccinations for children, on November 20, 2021 in London, England.Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

  • Far-right groups on Telegram have used COVID-19 conspiracy theories to recruit new members.

  • This observation comes from a study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, based in London.

  • Far-right groups have mobilized emotions around the restrictions and vaccinations linked to COVID-19.

A new study has found that the far right has expanded its reach through the Telegram messaging app and COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

The London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue study found that the far right was using COVID-19 conspiracy theories to recruit people into their extremist views.

He revealed that 90% of the most viewed posts by far-right groups contained misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies that made them.

Additionally, much of the COVID-19 disinformation disseminated by far-right groups was underpinned by white supremacist ideologies, including extreme misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, according to the study.

“COVID-19 served as a catalyst for radicalization,” writes Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue and head of the study. “It allows conspiracy theorists or extremists to create straightforward narratives, presenting them like us against them, good against evil.”

A screenshot from a Telegram channel reads: “Jews are liars. No truth ever passes between their lips, ”and falsely claimed that the people behind the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were Jewish.

“COVID-19 has created fertile ground for recruiting because so many people around the world feel overwhelmed,” Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, told The Associated. , who studies far-right extremism. Hurry.

“These racist conspiracy theories give people a sense of control, a sense of power over events that make people feel powerless.”

A conspiracy theory, or false truth, that has spread through the channel is “there are parasitic worms on face masks and covid swabs”. When the researchers recorded the message, it had more than 147,000 views.

ISD has monitored a sample of 239 Telegram channels that have previously used the platform to post and promote content supporting far-right groups, individuals, conspiracies or political and social belief systems.

Of those 239 channels, 167 actively discussed COVID-19 between January 2020 and June 2021, including 133 white supremacist channels that have mobilized anger and fear around the restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A Telegram channel saw the total number of subscribers increase tenfold after it began to propagate COVID-19 conspiracy theories, according to the study.

“The guardrails you see on other platforms don’t exist on Telegram,” O’Connor said. “This makes it a very attractive place for extremists,” he told The Associated Press.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Telegram said it welcomed “the peaceful expression of ideas, including those with which we do not agree.” The statement said moderators are monitoring user activity and reports “to suppress public calls for violence.”

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