A new study shows that the pandemic, unsurprisingly, worked as a boon for Canadian right-wing extremists.
The results were broken down in a new report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an extremist-focused think tank. In the 65-page report, the authors looked at Canadians active in right-wing extremist communities formed on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, 4chan, Gab, Iron March, and Fascist Forge (the latter two are now-defunct social media platforms explicitly for fascists).
The team behind the report—Mackenzie Hart, Jacob Davey, Eisha Maharasingam-Shah, Aoife Gallagher, and Ciaran O’Connor—analyzed “3 million messages sent by over 2,400 groups, channels, and accounts associated with Canadian (right-wing extremists).”
The researchers found that as the pandemic put more people online for greater periods of time, the recruitment pool for Canadian extremists grew. They say extremists quickly capitalized on the “environment of heightened anxiety.”
“As a result of the pandemic, extremist conspiracy theories have flourished, and minority communities—in particular Asians—have been subject to increased hate crimes and harassment,” they write.
Right-wing extremists from the Great White North “on Facebook generated over 44 million reactions, were retweeted nearly 9 million times, and generated over 600,000 comments on YouTube.” On Telegram, which held some of the “most violent and concerning communities” they looked at, “content was viewed over 16 million times.” The only platform the researchers found a “significant drop” in the far-right content was YouTube.
The researchers broke down each community into ideologies and analyzed them in depth. For example, on Telegram (where some of the most extreme communities are active) they found the majority of 400 Canadian far-right channels they looked at were white supremacist and ethnonationalist in general, and that the channels and users were part of a larger international network.
“Canadian users of (right-wing extremist) channels on Telegram are connected into a broader international English language extremist ecosystem, and the platform acts as a hub for transnational coalition-building for extremist communities,” it says.
Furthermore, the researchers found that, like other Canadians, extremists north of the border seemed to follow the lead of Americans. They found that Canadians mentioned the U.S. (mainly Donald Trump) more than Canada and discussed “Canadian politics only 3.1 percent more than U.S. politics.” When they did talk about Canadian politics it was primarily about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or the New Democratic Party.
“This raises the concern that an emboldened and increasingly violent extreme right in the US could help to inspire similar activity in Canada, as Canadian (right-wing extremists) look to their U.S. counterparts for inspiration,” says the report.
The report found that far-right extremists were drivers of misinformation regarding the pandemic, something VICE World News has previously reported on.
The authors warn that an increase in extremist activity may be seen as Canadian society begins to reopen.
“Given the possibility that the pandemic has introduced new audiences to extreme right-wing ideology, it is possible that when lockdowns are lifted, this may correlate to rates of extreme-right activity that are higher than the pre-lockdown level,” reads the report.
The report describes the far-right community as “resilient” and a “small but perennial presence in online life" and urges social media platforms to take more action than they already have.
“In light of a global surge in violence and mobilization by the extreme right, addressing these issues in a comprehensive and cohesive fashion is essential.”
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