A new report has disclosed that the far-right is trying to use the COVID-19 pandemic “to propagate racism and anti-immigration sentiment”. It’s also highlighted that online conversations around the pandemic are being dominated by conservative groups. What’s more, right-wing Internet users have been shown to be “more active in their engagement than their left-wing counterparts”.
The report also found “a high proportion of conspiracy-focused content” related to the pandemic.
A right-wing conversation
Published by Graphika on 21 April, “The COVID-19 ‘Infodemic’”, was authored by Melanie Smith, Erin McAweeney and Léa Ronzaud. On its website Graphika points out that the “report represents a preliminary analysis of data analyzed” by it regarding the “global online conversation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic”.
The report’s authors found that “conservative groups” are more involved in the online conversations around the pandemic than “left-leaning groups”. In fact, the study revealed that the total activity of these conservative groups comes to 27%. By comparison, left-wing groups only account for 8% of the conversations.
When broken down by region, right-wing groups in France, Italy, and the US “are more vocal” when compared with other EU and Latin American countries.
An anti-immigrant agenda
In the report the authors also note how groups are using the pandemic to push an anti-immigrant agenda. They write:
A number of groups are leveraging the conversation around coronavirus to propagate racism and anti-immigration sentiment. Some of these communities focus upon the origins of the outbreak to spread anti-Chinese content, but the French and Italian right-wing are determined to draw attention to immigration policy in their respective countries.
It’s pointed out that amongst the Italian far right what “dominated” COVID-19 discussions were “clickbait news sites that frequently posted racist and anti-immigrant content”. And this was also found with the French far right, with the same kind of clickbait sites being popular.
The authors divulged that:
Several racist, anti-immigrant, and false narratives supported by these outlets are thriving among the French far right… for instance that neighborhoods populated mostly by Muslims and people of African origin have special quarantine rules, or that people of color and Muslims are not respecting the quarantine and are assaulting the police when threatened with fines.
The widespread presence of conspiracy theories was also highlighted. According to the authors the “online conversation around the coronavirus has been blighted” by such theories. Initially the conspiracy theories focussed on the creation of a so-called “new world order” and the influence of Bill Gates and George Soros.
In one case an article popular amongst the French far right claims that the two men are “tied to the conspiracy” around COVID-19. As well as this, the men are accused of “hoping it [COVID-19] will ‘eradicate humanity’”.
But this has shifted and now “conspiratorial content has become more closely focused on governmental responses to the outbreak”. In particular, the QAnon conspiracy community “has taken a significant interest” in the virus. Advocates of the theory believe that Donald Trump is in the process of exposing and arresting those involved in the “deep state”. Supporters refer to this as “the storm” and they believe the COVID-19 pandemic “is the ‘storm’ that Trump has been waiting for”.
As previously reported by The Beacon, similar patterns can also be seen in Ireland. Across private social media groups, it’s claimed that the virus is a pretext for a power grab by the government. And, what’s more, the spread of the virus has been linked to conspiracy theories surrounding 5G technology.
The Far Right Observatory has also identified similar patterns in Ireland. It has found “no shortage” of conspiracy theories surrounding 5G and the pandemic. And it underlined that Irish extremists are using the same “narrative tacitics [sic]” as the global far right to radicalise people.