New report argues Irish far right producing ‘Layers of Lies’ on Telegram

A photo of people in front of the Telegram logo which which has become the platform of choice for online extremism.

A new report has highlighted the extent to which the Irish far right is using Telegram. According to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the messaging and social media tool has evolved into “one of the main online spaces” the far right uses to “communicate, promote content, spread disinformation, organise and mobilise”.

The report also points to the intersection between the far right and anti-lockdown and COVID denial groups on Telegram.

Smear campaigns and disinformation

The ISD published the report, Layers of Lies: A First Look at Irish Far-Right Activity on Telegram, today. Authored by Aoife Gallagher and Ciarán O’Connor, it notes the role of 34 Irish Telegram groups that “promote ethnonationalist, far-right content”.

It’s pointed out that last year 60,377 messages were sent in the various groups compared to 801 in 2019. The authors write that this is “an enormous increase of 7,438% in just one year”. 

Also focused on by the report is the role of Irish extremists in spreading disinformation around the death of George Nkencho and a house fire in Balbriggan last year on Telegram. 

In the case of George Nkencho, the ISD “recorded 4,397 posts across 28 Telegram channels” in the seven days after gardaí shot him. Of these messages 22% specifically referred to the shooting. Users made these particular posts in 21 Telegram groups, “17 of which were categorised as ethnonationalist/anti-immigrant and four of which were categorised as channels sharing far-right conspiracy theories”.

After the Balbriggan house fire in August 2020 the ISD recorded 1,138 messages across 21 Telegram groups in the week following the incident. Six of these groups the ISD categorised as “ethnonationalist/anti-immigrant channels”, with three of them sharing far-right conspiracy theories and another channel “operated by a far-right influencer”. 

In both incidences the ISD highlighted that such tactics and smear campaigns aimed at activists and minority communities in the aftermath of both events “are a common tactic” extremists around the world use.

Routine tactics

Gallagher and O’Connor also looked at the far right’s homophobic targeting of children’s minister Roderic O’Gorman and the role of the far right in anti-mask protests. 

With O’Gorman the authors argue that accusing left-leaning or liberal figures of enabling or supporting paedophilia is “routinely” done by the far right. It’s carried out “as a way of spreading disinformation” and of accusing targets of “what is arguably regarded by most societies as the worst crime imaginable”. And the far-right’s targeting of O’Gorman in this regard was no different.

Far-right Telegram groups have also been “highly active” in spreading disinformation about anti-lockdown and far-right rallies. This includes claiming that the attack on LGBTQI+ activist Izzy Kamikaze at a rally on 12 September was a “‘false flag’ operation”. 

The same groups have also “heavily promoted” anti-lockdown rallies, encouraging people “to get out on the streets”. A large number of posts in groups dedicated to various COVID-19 conspiracy theorists also “originated from a far-right source”. As the report argues:

This represents a highly concerning intersection that could be exploited by extremist actors to fuel radicalisation, instigate targeted harassment campaigns against individuals, or encourage violence.

In conclusion Gallagher and O’Connor describe Telegram’s moderation policies as “negligent”. 

Telegram targeting

Last year The Beacon drew attention to the role of Telegram in allowing conspiracy theorists to spread disinformation about COVID-19 and how the far right uses the platform to target activists.

In one case the admin of a Telegram channel called on users to “Start a shunning campaign” against “anti-Irish” journalists and academics. They also contended that vigilante groups should be formed to “police” so-called trouble spots after a stabbing in Carrigaline, Co. Cork.

Also revealed by The Beacon in January this year was how the far right used Telegram to spread disinformation and stir up racial tensions in the aftermath of the shooting of George Nkencho by gardaí. On one Telegram channel the admin issued clear orders, telling users to “Be as callous as possible” when targeting Black people and activists after the shooting.

Featured image via Flickr – Marco Verch

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