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Monday, January 24, 2022

Using COVID conspiracies to propel the far-right movement

by David Klepper and Lori Hinnant | The Associated Press

PARIS — Mugshot-style photos are posted on online message boards in black and white and look like old-fashioned “wanted” posters.

“Jews are all masters of COVID like Hollywood,” says the accompanying text. “wake up people.”

The post is one of several that white supremacists and far-right extremists are using to expand their reach and recruit followers on the social media platform Telegram, according to the findings of researchers, who sifted through nearly half a million comments on the pages. Scrutinized – channels called Telegram – that they classified as far-right from January 2020 to June 2021.

The strategy has been successful: Nine out of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample the researchers examined contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies that make them. A Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after succumbing to COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

“COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for radicalization,” said study author Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “It allows conspiracy theorists or extremists to make simple narratives, framing it as us versus them, good versus evil.”

Other posts underestimated the seriousness of the coronavirus or pushed conspiracy theories about its origins. Many posts containing hate speech or violent rhetoric directed at Jews, Asians, women or other groups will be automatically removed from Facebook or Twitter for violating those sites’ standards.

Based in the United Arab Emirates, Telegram has many different types of users around the world, but it has become a favorite tool of some far-flung because the platform lacks the content moderation of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Telegram said it welcomes “the peaceful expression of views, including those with which we do not agree.” Moderators monitor activity and user reports “to remove public calls for violence,” the statement said.

O’Connor said he believes the people behind these positions are trying to take advantage of the fear and anxiety over COVID-19 to attract new recruits whose loyalties are in the middle of the pandemic. can end it.

Indeed, there are some direct recruitment pitches mixed in with posts of COVID-19 conspiracy. For example, someone posted a link to a news story about a Long Island, New York, Synagogue on a channel popular with the far-right Proud Boys and added a message urging followers to join them. “Embrace who you were called to be,” read the post, which contained a swastika.

The researchers suggested that far-right groups are working together on Telegram. ISD researchers linked two usernames to two prominent members of the American far-right involved in running a Telegram channel. One was a scheduled speaker at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist intentionally entered a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 35.

The channel has grown exponentially since the pandemic began and now has nearly 400,000 views every day, according to Telegram Analytics, a service that maintains statistical data on about 150,000 Telegram channels on the TGStat site. The channel had 5,000 subscribers in May 2020; Now he has 50,000.

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The data particularly pertains to events around the world that indicate some extremists are moving from online rhetoric to offline action.

Gavin Yami, a physician and public health professor at Duke University, has written about the growing threats against health care workers during the pandemic. She said the persecution is even worse for people who are women, people of color, religious minorities or LGBTQ people.

Yami, who is Jewish, has received threats and anti-Semitic messages, including one on Twitter asking her family to “execute”. He fears racist conspiracy theories and may remain the scapegoat even after the pandemic eases.

“I worry that in some ways the genie is out of the bottle,” Yami said.

The pandemic and the unrest have been linked to a wave of harassment and attacks on Asian-Americans. In Italy, far-right opponents of a vaccine mandate raged through a union headquarters and a hospital. In Hawaii in August, some of those harassing that state’s Jewish lieutenant governor at his home during a vaccine protest branded fliers with his photo and the word “Jew”.

Elsewhere since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, people have died after fake treatments, pharmacists destroyed vaccine vials, and others damaged 5G telecommunications towers.

Events like pandemics leave many people anxious and looking for an explanation, according to Cynthia Miller-Idris, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, which studies far-right extremism. She said conspiracy theories can provide an artificial sense of control.

“COVID-19 has created fertile ground for recruitment as many people around the world feel distressed,” Miller-Idris said. “These racist conspiracy theories give people a sense of control, a sense of power over events that make people feel powerless.”

Policing extremism online has challenged tech companies that say they must protect free speech by removing hate speech. They will also face increasingly sophisticated tactics by groups that have learned to evade the platform rules.

Facebook announced this month that it removed a network of accounts based in Italy and France that spread conspiracy theories about vaccines and coordinated harassment campaigns against journalists, doctors and public health officials.

Company investigators found that the network, called V_V, used both real and fake accounts and was overseen by a group of users who coordinated their activities on Telegram in an effort to hide their tracks from Facebook.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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