20th October, 2020
By Mackenzie Hart
2020 has seen an upsurge in conspiracy theories spread across Facebook centring on billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a long-time target of the far right and conspiracy theorists. ISD found that the scale of anti-Soros narratives on Facebook and Twitter rose in tandem with the George Floyd protests that strafed the United States in May. This spike was not limited to the US but included online entities from around the world.
George Soros has long been a favoured target for far-right actors, their narratives and their conspiracy theories. The early months of 2020 have seen much online discussion tying Soros to various COVID-related conspiracy theories. These narratives have included demonising Soros as part of a global elite intent on (among other things) destroying the global economy and imposing martial law through the United Nations.
Following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and resulting wave of anti-racism protests across the United States, ISD sought to analyse online discussion of Soros on both mainstream and fringe platforms. What follows is a case study in the dissemination of anti-Soros narratives.
Findings – Summary
ISD found that the scale of anti-Soros narratives on Facebook and Twitter rose in tandem with the Floyd protests. Importantly, this spike was not limited to the US but included online entities from around the world. In addition to increased volume, ISD researchers noted an increased consistency in actors, narratives and cited media sources pushing these conspiracies across platforms. In our data, the most prominent actors generating anti-Soros content were individuals and groups associated with the far-right, disseminating articles, images and narratives through online networks on different platforms. ISD also found that QAnon-associated groups, pages and accounts were particularly active in spreading anti-Soros content on mainstream social media.
Mainstream Social Media – Facebook and Twitter
From 25/05/2020 to 01/06/2020, the 9,436 Facebook pages and public groups monitored by ISD produced a total of 25,915 posts containing the keyword “soros”. For both public groups and pages, the day with the most posts mentioning Soros was 31/05/2020. The most active Facebook page was Make America Great Again, with 80 posts, while the most active public group was OFFICIAL Q/QANON, with 475 posts mentioning Soros.
Of the 30 Facebook entities most active in spreading anti-Soros narratives, 18 were US-focused. The remaining 12 groups and public pages included countries from around the world, including Hungary, Brazil, Albania and the Canary Islands. Anti-Soros narratives were especially popular with both Facebook and Twitter users in Brazil, who claimed that Soros is responsible for the political unrest there as well as in the US. Interestingly, 7 of the 15 most active public Facebook groups were associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory.
In addition to Facebook, ISD researchers searched Twitter for mentions of Soros from 18/05/2020 to 01/06/2020. We found 2 million tweets containing the keyword ‘soros’ in this two-week period, a 326% increase from the previous two weeks. These 2 million posts were created by 544,000 unique authors, meaning that many accounts produced more than one tweet mentioning Soros. 35,000 of the tweets mentioning Soros also included mentions of the term ‘QAnon’.
Narratives & Media
What were the key Soros narratives?
Firstly, online discussion of Soros included the revival of narratives from 2016 claiming he was funding Black Lives Matter groups at the time and had simply ‘returned to his old ways’ during the current protests. Other narratives alleged that Soros is controlling the George Floyd protests through funding protestors, BLM and ANTIFA – arranging transport for protestors within the US, and strategically placing bricks along protest routes to incite violence. As with COVID-19 conspiracies, anti-Soros narratives connect him to other global elite like Bill Gates, arguing that, as a group of individuals, they support anti-government protests in the US and abroad as a means to establish the New World Order (NWO). Not all of the ‘Soros’ online discussion during the protests linked him to the events; many actors took this as an opportunity to re-use existing conspiracy tropes seen across ISD’s work on the international far-right.
ISD also noted similarities between platforms in terms of media content shared. For example, 2 of the top 3 articles shared in posts mentioning Soros on Facebook also appeared on Twitter. The first of these is a Washington Times article from January 25th 2020, titled, “George Soros, 89, still on a quest to destroy America”. The short article mentions Soros’ comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but does not provide any direct citations. The remaining lines of the piece repurposes a quotation from an article in The Washington Post discussing how a Soros funded PAC funded by Soros gave money to ‘left-leaners’ in the Virginia counties of Arlington and Fairfax. The second article, on CNBC, ‘George Soros warns Trump of potential economic doom before election’ was also written in January 2020 during the World Economic Forum. While the article itself is not anti-Soros in nature, it was likely shared to indirectly support claims made by conspiracy theories such as QAnon.
Mackenzie Hart is an Associate working across various projects across ISD’s Digital Research Unit. Mackenzie focuses on hate, disinformation and the far-right, and has also been involved with ISD’s election analysis work, mapping and analysing online information operations, as well as the activities of extremist groups.