ISD Insights

Our newsletter that delivers all the latest research and ISD activities directly to your inbox
May, 2024
Insights No. 67

ISD, along with other expert groups, contributed to the recently distributed guide to conspiracy theories in the UK for MPs and election candidates commissioned by Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons.

 

“These (conspiracy) campaigns are also a threat to the health of our democracy. It is essential that we give the public and their representatives the tools they need to combat this phenomenon,” said Mordaunt. Her Labour counterpart Lucy Powell was quoted by the Evening Standard saying the guide was a “must-read for MPs and candidates.”

 

The guide highlights eight common conspiracies circulating in the UK, including QAnon, anti-vaccine narratives, pro-Russia narratives regarding the war in Ukraine, the Great Replacement, 5G, and misinformation about 15-minute cities.

 

Other contributing organisations included the Antisemitism Policy Trust, Full Fact, Tell Mama, the Community Security Trust, the Global Network on Extremism and Technology and the political analyst Arieh Kovler.

 

Coverage of the guide is also featured in The Guardian, Jewish News and Metro.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Conspiracy theories matter, but not all are impactful: A guide for analysing risks to audiences
  • UK Terrorgram proscription: Useful, but limited tool to combat online network
  • Event: Jennie King, guest lecturer for the Stockholm Series speaking on the fight for information integrity, climate action & democracy
  • ISD staff featured in El Mundo, the Boston Globe, Wired, the New York Times and more
Read More

April, 2024
Insights No. 66

The UK faces a fundamentally different threat from extremism and weaponised hate today than it did a decade ago. Both the far right and Islamists have been galvanised to action by recent events, particularly Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel. In March, the government also unveiled a new definition of extremism, in a bid to help counter threats to the UK.

 

A new policy brief by ISD’s Director of Counter Extremism Policy and Research, Milo Comerford, and Hate and Extremism Analyst Hannah Rose explores the increasingly diverse range of threats to the UK’s security. It also provides a number of recommendations on how the government can work to combat these challenges.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Hindu nationalists push conspiracy theories and misinformation ahead of elections
  • Changing tides: Discourse towards migrants and asylum seekers on Facebook and X in Germany in 2023
  • Workshop: Uniting against antisemitism; empowering transatlantic civil society responses across Latin America
  • ISD contributes to shaping the European Commission’s DG-CLIMA policy regarding climate mis- and disinformation
  • Our staff featured in Climate 1.5 Podcast, Politico Tech podcast, Irish Examiner and more.
Read More

April, 2024
Insights No. 65

Misinformation surged following Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel on Saturday — a response to an unclaimed Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic mission in Syria on 1 April. X (formerly known as Twitter) in particular was awash with unverified and falsified images. This content, shared by ‘checkmark’ paid premium subscribers, self-proclaimed ‘OSINT’ (open-source intelligence) accounts, citizen journalists and even the Iranian government, received millions of views.

 

ISD’s rapid response analysis, led by our Executive Director for Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Moustafa Ayad, and Director of Technology and Society, Isabelle Frances-Wright, was covered in WIRED, Sky News, NPR and AFP. They found that within just seven hours of drones being launched, 34 images and videos claiming to show the ongoing conflict but which were false, misleading or generated using artificial intelligence (AI) had received over 37 million views on X.

 

Read more about it here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Pro-CCP Spamouflage campaign experiments with new tactics targeting the US
  • Shared Endeavour Fund projects engage over 31,000 Londoners, particularly young people, in activities designed to address intolerance, hate and extremism
  • Explainer on US ‘Antifa’ groups
  • Event: Jiore Craig on disinformation & AI: Takeaways from Taiwan’s elections and moving forward in 2024
  • Event: Stockholm Series: Jennie King on the fight for information integrity, climate action & democracy
  • Our staff featured in the Hill, AFP, iNews, Tagesschau Faktenfinder, and more.
Read More

April, 2024
Insights No. 64

Following the attack at Crocus City Hall outside of Moscow, Islamic State’s Amaq ‘news agency’ released a video of the attack. ISD tracked how this bodycam-like footage made its way from Telegram and Islamic State forums onto X where it reached 59.9 million views in 48 hours.

 

ISD’s Moustafa Ayad and Tim Squirrell analyse how X became an epicenter for the spread of terrorist content in the wake of the attack, hosting content that is not only illegal in most jurisdictions but also violates X’s own Rules on Perpetrators of Violent Attacks. Read the analysis here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Pro-Kremlin responses to the Moscow terrorist attack in Russia, Germany and Italy
  • Fringe groups continue to target Drag Queen Story Hour events across Australia
  • Delegitimisation of the ‘Demos gegen Rechts’ by pro-Russian and far-right actors in Germany
  • A fragmented online information environment in the wake of Aaron Bushnell’s self-immolation
  • “Don’t you want to go on vacation?” Hawking ‘hijrah’ to the African affiliates of the Islamic State
  • A year of hate: Anti-drag mobilisation efforts targeting LGBTQ+ people in Australia
  • The EU AI Act: Insights from the world’s first comprehensive AI law
  • Five years on from Christchurch: Assessing the evolution of the threat landscape and policy responses
  • Vilify, ridicule, disinform: Political communication and media trust in the age of generative AI
  • Appraising the Islamist extremist landscape after 7/10
  • Explainer: ‘Saints’ Culture
  • ISD analysts featured in Euronews, the NYT, RTÉ and more.
Read More

March, 2024
Insights No. 63

February marked two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the onset of an accompanying information war. In our report “Two Years On“, ISD analyses the evolution of Russian state and pro-Kremlin propaganda aimed at eroding international support for Ukraine. Drawing on two years of ISD research, we expose tactics used by pro-Kremlin actors and outlets to maintain influence despite EU sanctions: from disguised spin-off outlets, to coordinated networks, to single-purpose accounts with fake personas.

 

We also highlight critical vulnerabilities within the West that these actors are poised to exploit, namely: grievances around the cost of support for Ukraine; a potential rise in isolationism in US foreign policy in the event of a Trump win in the Presidential elections; the expected gains of pro-Kremlin far-right parties in the upcoming European parliamentary elections; and accusations of hypocrisy levelled at Western governments regarding international conflicts, especially the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

 

As we reflect on this pivotal moment, we recognise the urgent need for united action by Western governments to decisively tip the military balance and support Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Chance or cultivation? Farmers’ protests in Germany and connections to the far right
  • Recent Oversight Board rulings reveal that Meta continuously fails its users
  • Unraveling tragedy: The power of US anti-government extremism in the case of Justin Mohn
  • Pro-CCP ‘Spamouflage’ network pivots focus on US Presidential Election
  • Explainers: Neo-confederate ideology
  • Our analysts and research featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Euronews, USA Today, and more.
Read More

February, 2024
Insights No. 62

Former Fox News anchor – and Russian state media favourite – Tucker Carlson travelled to Russia in early February where he announced he would be interviewing President Vladimir Putin, just two weeks ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. Elon Musk, whose platform X has become a home for actors who have been deplatformed elsewhere, agreed to air the interview.

ISD OSINT analyst Elise Thomas has long studied Russian influence campaigns and has observed how Carlson’s divisive rhetoric and conspiratorial tendencies have found a receptive audience in pro-Kremlin media circles. Read her analysis on Russian state media’s fascination with Carlson here.

 

Also in this newsletter

  • A rematch for the fate of US democracy?
  • Why the US urgently needs child online safety legislation
  • Children exposed to mass shooter glorification across mainstream social media platforms
  • How the Israel-Hamas War is influencing pro-Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine
  • Germans who go to social media for their news are more susceptible to pro-Kremlin disinformation
  • Coalition to Counter Online Antisemitism compendium on Holocaust denial and distortion
  • Networks of dissuasion: Mapping online attacks on reproductive rights in France
  • Explainers: ‘Saints’ culture
  • Our staff featured in USA Today, NPR’s All Things Considered, the Daily Beast’s the New Abnormal, the Hill and more

 

Read More

January, 2024
Insights No. 61

In January, the British government announced that it would be proscribing the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation. The latest ISD Explainer lays out the context for this proscription, as well as the origins and beliefs of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Also in this newsletter:

  • Is ‘swatting’ the latest trend in political violence? Not so fast
  • The terrorist radio revival: How the Islamic State’s radio station survives on social media
  • Mapping online attacks on reproductive rights in France
  • A web of hate: Looking at online gendered abuse in 2022 in the US
  • 2022 World Cup in Qatar: Anti-feminist discourses by the German-speaking far-right on Telegram
  • In the blind spot: Right-wing extremists on alternative and established platforms
  • Israel-Hamas conflict research analysis
    • What a ChatGPT campaign targeting pro-Ukraine Americans tells us about the future of generative AI
    • Pro-CCP network known as ‘Spamouflage’ weaponises Gaza conflict to spread anti-US sentiment
    • Antisemitic riots in Russia: How misinformation spread online fueled violence
    • Unpacking antisemitic narratives about the Hamas attack and the Israel-Hamas Conflict within YouTube comments
    • Changing attitudes towards Ukraine: A cross-language examination on Facebook and X
    • Cross-ideological antisemitism and the October 7th attacks
    • 43-fold increase in anti-Muslim YouTube comments following Hamas’ October 7 attack
  • Explainers: Hizb ut-Tahrir, Northern Ireland Related Terrorism
  • In this issue, our staff features in ZDF, the BBC, NBC News, the New York Times and more.
Read More

December, 2023
Insights No. 60

ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek was honoured to speak at the annual Christchurch Call Leaders’ Summit in November, chaired by President Emmanuel Macron and Rt Hon Dame Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

 

The Leaders’ Summit, held on the margins of the 2023 Paris Peace Forum in Paris, brought together leaders from government, the tech sector, partner organisations, and civil society held at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Experts convened to cover a range of topics related to terrorism and violent extremist content online, including emerging technologies and AI, algorithmic transparency and the Israel-Gaza conflict, among others.

 

The summit built on ISD’s participation across a range of working groups which saw ISD produce a policy paper with partners on misogyny, extremism and online gender-based violence. This paper was referenced in the summit’s joint leaders’ statement.

 

ISD is a proud member of the Christchurch Call’s Advisory Network. Read more about what the Christchurch Call has accomplished over the years here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Resurrecting the legacy of Osama bin Laden: Algorithms and ambivalence
  • An investigation into the online mis- and disinformation ecosystem in Ireland
  • How wellness and new age influencers are serving anti-climate narratives to their audiences
  • #HamasisISIS?: Assessing the campaign comparing proscribed groups
  • Information disorder in the Israel-Hamas war highlights shifts in the fight against online misinformation
  • Analysing reactions to the Israel-Hamas conflict
  • The #Stolzmonat, a German-language, far-right countercampaign against Pride month
  • Explainer: Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred
  • In November, ISD announced our future cooperation with the Alfred Landecker Foundation as the main supporter of ISD’s international Digital Policy Lab
  • Our staff features in the New York Times, CBS’ Face the Nation, AP News, USA Today and more.
Read More

November, 2023
Insights No. 59

In response to the terrorist attacks carried out in Israel on the 7th October and the ensuing war between Israel and Hamas, ISD’s threat monitoring and research teams have worked at pace to evidence and analyse the global repercussions of the exponential spread of targeted hatestate actor information operations as well as terrorist and violent extremist mobilisation online. From hate and extremist groups to authoritarian states, our work has shown how these actors are seeking to exploit the devastating developments in the Middle East to further their agendas, divide communities and contribute to a cycle of recruitment and violence. Even with age restrictions in place, ISD has found that children are being served graphic and violent content across various platforms.

 

Our threat prevention teams are working around the clock to mitigate credible threats of targeted, hate-based violence against communities. Our platform accountability policy teams are working to ensure  platform and legislative commitments are enforced around the information crisis that has emerged, and Strong Cities Network members are working to share and scale practical approaches to preventing a further uptick in polarisation and violence.

 

We will be continuing to devote substantial resources to these efforts over the forthcoming weeks. Support our work here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Violent and graphic content of the Israel-Hamas conflict served to minors’ accounts
  • Illegal, violent terrorist content relating to Hamas-Israel conflict reaches millions on X
  • Rise in antisemitism on mainstream and fringe social media platforms following Hamas’ terrorist attack
  • Use of words, phrases and hashtags associated with anti-Muslim mobilisation surges amid Israel-Gaza conflict
  • Capitalising on crisis: Russia, China and Iran use X to exploit Israel-Hamas information chaos
  • Active Clubs: The growing threat of ‘white nationalism 3.0’ across the United States
  • What a failing propaganda campaign tells us about pro-Kremlin influence operations in 2023
  • CEO Sasha Havlicek and US Executive Director Dixon Osburn led ISD’s team at the Eradicate Hate Global Summit in Pittsburgh
  • Our staff features in the New York Times, Le Figaro, POLITICO, Newtral, NPR and more.
Read More

September, 2023
Insights No. 58

In September, ISD hosted our flagship Digital Policy Summit 2023, where high-level representatives from North America, Europe and the Pacific gathered in Berlin to discuss topics including implementation and enforcement of existing and new digital regulatory frameworks (e.g. the European Digital Services Act, the UK’s Online Safety Bill and Australia’s Online Safety Act). There were also important discussions chaired by CEO Sasha Havlicek and Executive Director Germany, Huberta von Voss, that built on DPL Working Group papers and recommendations, including the two papers launched at the event on online gender-based violence (OGBV) and the threats and policy implications posed by emerging platforms and technologies.

 

On the margins of the UN General Assembly, Executive Director Eric Rosand and team helped deliver the Strong Cities Network’s Fourth Global Summit held in New York. Attended by over 100 mayors and many other city leaders, this summit provides a unique forum for ideas exchange and thought leadership between those who are uniquely positioned to engage on preventing and tackling rising levels of hate, extremism and democratic backsliding. Just ahead of the summit Strong Cities launched two new practical tools for cities – A Guide for Mayors and A Guide for Cities to help them prevent and respond to hate, extremism and polarisation.

 

This week, the team led by Sasha and US Executive Director Dixon Osburn, are presenting at the Eradicate Hate Global Summit in Pittsburgh. Sasha joined the panel of the opening session ‘The State of Hate’ on Wednesday where she spoke on the impact of hate and extremism. “We’ve talked about the problems of violence, but the problem is a much bigger one. It is impacting civil discourse, it is impacting our opportunity to live in cohesive societies. Liberal democracy is on the line,” she said. We also had the opportunity to co-chair the working group on gaming, where we sought to establish a framework with industry, civil society and academia to use gaming as a vector for positive change to counter hate and extremism. The full agenda is available here and recordings from the Summit will be made available.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Meming 9/11: A new generation of Salafi-jihadists terrorposting the September 11 attacks
  • Misogynistic pathways to radicalisation
  • Emerging platforms and technologies: An overview of the current threat landscape and its policy implications
  • Policy approaches to addressing data access challenges
  • Explainer: Gen Z Salafism
  • Explainer: Rumble
  • ISD is now on Instagram!
  • ISD’s mini series for the Global Network on Extremism and Technology (GNET)
  • ISD features in the BBC, Sky News, Bloomberg, the NYT and more.
Read More

September, 2023
Insights No. 57

ISD’s new report ‘Young guns’ explores and explains the latest trends in radicalisation and extremism among young people. Traditional extremist ideologies like white supremacy and Salafi-jihadism continue to attract young recruits in the US. Alongside this, though, a much broader set of ideologically fluid extremist and extremist-adjacent movements are competing for young followers online.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Content glorifying the Wagner Group circulating on Meta platforms
  • Cashing in on conflict: TikTok profits from pro-Kremlin disinformation ads
  • Summary of the Oct 2022 expert conference for the “Countering radicalisation in right-wing extremist online subcultures” project.
  • Explainer: The ‘public health approach’ to prevention
  • Explainer: Rumble
  • Fourth and final video for ISD’s video campaign #wirstattDesinformation, a campaign that aimed to foster empathy with lived experiences of Ukrainian refugees by pre-bunking false and manipulated content targeting refugees living in Germany.
  • ISD features in Wired, CNN, Euronews, NPR and more.
Read More

August, 2023
Insights No. 56

ISD’s Senior Resident Research Fellow Julia Ebner gives an exclusive interview with The Times about her pioneering undercover research career, the threats and challenges she’s faced in her line of work, and her latest book on the mainstreaming of extremist ideologies.

 

The full interview is available at The Times.

 

Julia also wrote an op-ed for The Guardian on how conspiracy thinking has seeped into the mainstream and what Western democracies can do to push back.

 

Her latest book ‘Going Mainstream. How extremists are taking over’ is available for purchase online.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Now available in Spanish: Distrust, fear and hate, the drivers of Spain’s 23J campaign
  • Explainer: Moorish sovereign citizen
  • US Senate committee uses ISD analysis for support on its review of Intelligence failures in the lead up to Jan 6
  • ISD features in NBC News, 20 Minutes, the New York Times and the Forward
Read More

August, 2023
Insights No. 55

The UK’s efforts to keep the British public safe from online harms will be stymied if the Online Safety Bill fails to mandate platform data access for independent researchers, says ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek in a new op-ed. Read it here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

 

  • New ISD job opportunities!
  • Distrust, fear and hate: The drivers of Spain’s 23J campaign
  • Twitter used to be where news breaks. Now Twitter’s newsroom is broken.
  • Another bite of the Kremlin apple: A Russian new state media spin-off targets the German public
  • Gore and violent extremism: How extremist groups exploit ‘gore’ sites to view and share terrorist material
  • Explainers: Data Access, Transparency, Far-left antisemitism
  • ISD’s Jennie King delivers a Covering Climate Now press briefing on the shifting climate mis- and disinformation landscape, leading a focus group discussion as a keynote speaker for Earth Journalism Network, and participating as a panellist for a EU Disinfo Lab webinar.
  • ISD features in the Guardian, Deutsche Welle, El País and the Washington Post
Read More

July, 2023
Insights No. 54

Last month (June) the European Commission’s Coordinator on combating antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, wrote an open letter to Twitter’s leadership calling for greater action against antisemitism on the platform, referencing ISD and CASM Technology’s research which showed such content had more than doubled since Elon Musk’s takeover. Co-signed by around twenty national antisemitism coordinators from across Europe and beyond, the letter makes an urgent call for greater transparency from the platform around content moderation, legal compliance and the algorithmic amplification of harmful content. Despite calls for more transparency, ISD remains concerned that movement on this front is moving in the wrong direction, with limited cooperation from tech companies, and shrinking data access for researchers across Twitter and other social media platforms.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • A Year of Hate: Understanding Threats and Harassment Targeting Drag Shows and the LGBTQ+ Community (Executive Summary, and country profiles on the US and UK)
  • CaliphateTok: Islamic State propaganda on TikTok
  • Explainer: Hindutva
  • Explainer: Commercial disinformation
  • A field guide for assessing chances of online-to-offline mobilisation
  • ISD at a ‘side event’ of the United Nations 2023 Counter-Terrorism Week, co-hosted by the World Jewish Congress and Israel.
  • Our researchers feature in the Guardian, ABC, VICE News, the Narwhal, the Washington Post, Charlie Hebdo and more.
Read More

June, 2023
Insights No. 53

Both the left and the right can agree on their distrust of social media. But how do we fix it? ISD’s CEO Sasha Havlicek lays out three solutions to address the current curated, for-profit social media environments we are all exposed to. Read her op-ed in The Hill.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Case study: Alt-platform Discord, a haven for Islamist and Catholic extremist activity
  • Explainer: Discord and Extremism
  • ISD provides feedback to the EU Commission on data access for researchers under the Digital Services Act
  • Resident Senior Fellow Julia Ebner book launch: Going Mainstream
  • Our researchers feature in CNN, RTÉ, the Irish Examiner and Tagesschau Faktenfinder.
Read More

May, 2023
Insights No. 52

Antisemitism online continues to rise, as seen in our recent report analysing the amplification of antisemitic narratives on Twitter. With that upwards trend, civil society’s role in countering hate speech is more important than ever. ISD, UNESCO, the World Jewish Congres and B’nai B’rith International hosted a workshop in May, to talk about tackling this issue online, exploring routes for joint advocacy and response across society. Attendees ranged across civil society, human rights and Jewish communal organisations, as well as international experts on policy and education.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • On Odysee: The Role of Blockchain Technology for Monetisation in the Far-Right Online Milieu
  • The Hydra on the Web: Challenges Associated with Extremist Use of the Fediverse – A Case Study of PeerTube
  • Access to Social Media Data for Public Interest Research: Lessons Learnt & Recommendations for Strengthening Initiatives in the EU and Beyond
  • Explainer on the ‘manosphere
  • ISD’s Jakob Guhl contributes to the Global Network on Extremism and Technology’s (GNET) mini series on Christian Nationalism
  • ISD researchers feature in Axios, TIME, Newsweek and USA Today.
Read More

May, 2023
Insights No. 51

We need transparency, not censorship, to address hate speech and other harms on social media
Following Elon Musk’s interview with the BBC, and the ensuing debate around censorship and free speech, ISD’s CEO, Sasha Havlicek, addresses the mischaracterisation of the problems we face online. In the article she calls for improved transparency in relation to the social media platforms’ algorithmic systems that ultimately distort the playing field for free speech.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Slipping through the net: Exploring online support for proscribed groups in Northern Ireland
  • Anti-vaccine conspiracies Explainer
  • Sasha also joined geopolitical experts as a panellist at the Economic Outlook in London late last month
  • ISD researchers feature in Newsweek, USA Today, TIME, WIRED and more.
Read More

April, 2023
Insights No. 50

ISD is hiring! Interested in challenging extremism, hate and disinformation in all its forms?

We are currently recruiting for multiple vacancies across our London, Berlin and Washington DC offices. If you would like to know more about upcoming opportunities or submit a speculative application, please visit our careers portal below.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Why aren’t Trump supporters showing up for protests?
  • Mainstreaming climate scepticism: Analysing the reach of fringe websites on Twitter
  • Understanding antisemitism on Twitter after Musk
  • Sydney’s WorldPride celebrated progress, but anti-LGBTQ+ threats and conspiracy theories cast a shadow
  • Explainer on Patriot Front
  • Head of Elections and Digital Integrity, Jiore Craig, delivered the keynote address at the British Council’s #MediaForAll conference in Tirana, Albania, this month.
  • ISD analysts feature in NPR, NBC News, BBC, the New York Times, Ireland’s TG4, and more.

 

Read More

March, 2023
Insights No. 49

Four years ago, a terrorist killed 51 people and devastated the lives of many others in an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We remember and mourn those lost to this and other attacks inspired by right-wing ideology and hate since then. The Christchurch attack represented the result of substantial growth in mainstreamed right-wing extremist ideology globally in the 2010s, from anti-refugee rhetoric in the form of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, to an emboldened digital extreme right.

 

The attack prompted greater efforts to combat right-wing extremism globally, especially online. While governments had been focussed on Islamist terrorism since the 2000s, the brutality of this attack served as a wake-up call to take right-wing terrorism seriously. These efforts include the Christchurch Call, where ISD’s CEO, Sasha Havlicek, has sat on its Advisory Network since its inception. We co-lead work to address the algorithmic amplification of content that may lead to violent extremist & terrorist material.

 

In 2021, ISD’s landmark report on hate speech and extremism on TikTok, Hatescape, found that footage from the Christchurch terrorist’s video of the event was available on TikTok along with material praising the shooter. On the 4th anniversary of the attack, we repeated this research. Within only hours, Senior Analyst Ciaran O’Connor and Head of US Research Melanie Smith found 53 pieces of content featuring support for the terrorist. Their research is available on our website now.

 

Four years after Christchurch, there is still substantial work to be done to make the world safer from violent extremism, terrorism, and hateful ideologies that seek to divide people and undermine universal human rights.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • BBC Panorama research: Misogyny & abuse on Twitter before and after Elon Musk’s takeover
  • Countering pro-Kremlin disinformation targeting Ukrainian refugees in Germany
  • ‘Climate lockdown’ Explainer
  • The ‘Great Reset’ Explainer
  • ISD’s Jennie King on tackling climate disinformation at first-ever European Parliament hearing on topic
  • ISD researchers feature in ABC News, Bloomberg, Euronews Green and the BBC.

 

Read More

March, 2023
Insights No. 48

24 February marked a full year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The conflict has been marked not only by human suffering, but also developments in the landscape of disinformation, hate and extremism. Pro-Kremlin propaganda efforts have relentlessly targeted global populations in an attempt to legitimise the war, using tools ranging from Russian state-backed media outlets, to so-called ‘independent’ journalists touting pro-Kremlin talking points, to bot-based information operations. We have dedicated resources to analysing, understanding and exposing pro-Kremlin information operations since the beginning of the war. Senior Analyst Julia Smirnova’s words here underscore the urgency of continuing to counter Putin’s efforts to undermine democracy and human rights.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • How mainstream & ‘alternative’ media news headlines frame climate activism
  • What happens when platforms give up
  • Final two releases from ISD’s 6-part January 6 series
  • ISD researchers feature in Sky News, ARD, Popular Science and Japanese Public Broadcaster NHK.
Read More

February, 2023
Insights No. 47

January 6, two years on
Since the insurrection in January 2020, the landscape of extremism has shifted in both the US and abroad. To mark the second anniversary of the Capitol riot, ISD has launched a six-part series exploring notable themes following the attack:

Also in this newsletter:

  • What Biden’s State of the Union means for tech accountability and combatting extremism
  • Migrants and asylum seekers in Ireland at risk as a result of trending TikTok videos
  • Inside the digital labyrinth: Right-wing extremists move to decentralised spaces
  • Friends in the ‘right’ places: An analysis of Elon Musk’s Twitter interactions before and after acquiring the platform
  • Islamophobia versus places of worship: How one community fought back against disinformation
Read More

January, 2023
Insights No. 46

ISD and the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition launched a new flagship report on disinformation and the climate crisis, unpacking the narratives and tactics that emerged from our real-time intelligence unit monitoring around the COP27 summit in November.

Some of the most concerning findings include the re-emergence of climate change denial as a favoured tactic of actors who had until recently sought only to delay climate action. We also found that Twitter had become a haven for climate denial, promoting the hashtag #ClimateScam above other climate-related hashtags with more engagement, for no clear reason.

 

This publication has been widely reported on, including in TIME, PBS, POLITICO and more.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Jan 6 series: The key to fighting extremism is accountability
  • Spitting out the blackpill: Evaluating how incels present themselves in their own words on the Incel Wiki
  • The ‘groomer’ slur
  • ISD researchers feature in the Irish Times, NPR, Audible, VICE and more
Read More

January, 2023
Insights No. 45

The second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. was marked by ceremonies in the Capitol and White House. The trials of prominent insurrectionists are carrying on, while the nation continues to struggle to reach consensus on the events of the day. To help understand the enduring impact of the events of January 6th, ISD is launching a series of articles, the first of which is an analysis of the mixed fortunes of election deniers globally. Over the coming weeks, you will hear from our US team on topics including the digital footprint of the insurrectionists, the progress of accountability for key actors and the nature of the US’s extremist landscape today.

 

Also in this newsletter:

 

  • How January 6 inspired election disinformation around the world
  • Extreme Dialogue: Former conspiracist shares story to help others understand the realities of extremism
  • Profiting from hate: Extremist merchandise found on Redbubble, Etsy, Teespring, Teerepublic and Zazzle
  • Recap of lessons learnt from the 2022 French elections
  • ISD’s report mapping alternative online spaces now available in German
  • Science denial communities turn their attention to RSV, the latest in a predictable trend
  • Takeaways from the 2022 US midterms: election denialist activity and abuse targeting female political figures
  • Wieambilla, Australia, shooting: analysis of perpetrators’ online footprint
  • Online crises responses by social media platforms
  • The effects of algorithmic ranking on online discourse
  • ISD researchers feature in Bloomberg, USA Today, the Washington Post, Grid and more.
Read More

January, 2023
ISD US Newsletter #2

Dear friends,

 

Since 2006 ISD has been at the forefront of analyzing and delivering solutions to weaponized hate, disinformation and extremism around the world. The events of January 6th underscored the urgency of turning the tide on these threats before their impact becomes insurmountable. In 2020, ISD broke new ground working with US partners to safeguard the elections. Last year, we took the decision to significantly scale up ISD-US, establishing a real-time extremism and disinformation threat monitoring and response capability in the lead up to the midterms.

 

It is fitting, on the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, that today we are welcoming C. Dixon Osburn as our new Executive Director for ISD-US. Dixon brings three decades of policy entrepreneurship and leadership experience to the position from his work at the intersection of national security, human rights and democracy. His experience runs from leading the successful bi-partisan effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the military’s ban on LGB servicemembers; to spearheading campaigns to end counter-terrorism policies that violate the rule of law at Human Rights First; and leading the efforts of the Center for Justice and Accountability to hold accountable war criminals across the globe. Dixon’s lifelong commitment to justice and democracy reflects ISD’s deep commitment to human rights based approaches to national security. Dixon will lead our growing US team as we go into the 2024 election season, and you can hear from him about his background and plans below.

 

Beginning shortly, ISD will be publishing a series of analyses examining our data around the midterm elections, the ongoing impact of extremism and disinformation, and the evolution of the threat landscape two years on from the January 6th insurrection. This newsletter is a snapshot of recent ISD-US highlights across our areas of work, and provides an insight into the incredible people we’ve brought on board to help turn the tide.

 

We couldn’t do this work without our friends and partners. With immense gratitude, from all of us here at ISD, we wish you a happy, peaceful and productive New Year and look forward to working with you on our common cause in 2023!

 

Sasha Havlicek, CEO

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December, 2022
ISD 2022 Highlights

Dear Friends and Partners,

 

We couldn’t do what we do without your partnership and support! This year our research teams have shown how extremists, conspiracy networks, hate groups and authoritarian states borrow from each other’s playbooks and amplify each other’s narratives. We have shown repeatedly how profits are being made from hate and disinformation and how social media products and algorithms are supercharging everything from electoral disinformation to misogyny.

 

Our digital policy team has used this insight to move the needle on tech platform action and regulation and where bad actors seek to exacerbate division and undermine trust, we have built out our programming to meet the evolving challenge. In 2022, our teams helped safeguard elections in the US, France, Kenya, and Australia, protect targeted communities from harassment and violence, and counter conspiracy and disinformation on Ukraine, climate, migration and public health.

 

Alongside the significant expansion of ISD US and ISD Germany this year, our Strong Cities Network (SCN) launched the build-out of regional hubs – from East and Southern Africa to MENA and the Western Balkans – serving mayors and local leaders, sharing and delivering good practices and training to address threats where they are felt most acutely, at a local level within communities around the world.

 

Below you will find highlights from our work in 2022. As we move into 2023, your continued support and partnership are crucial to us. With immense gratitude from all of us here at ISD, we wish you a peaceful and happy new year, and look forward to working together in 2023!

 

Sasha Havlicek, CEO

 

Research highlights

  • Mitigating new frontiers in disinformation: Elections, Ukraine, Climate and more
    • Safeguarding elections
    • Countering disinformation on Ukraine
    • Driving action on climate disinformation
  • Research and action on conspiracy, extremism and hate
    • Misogyny and targeted hate against women
    • Targeted hate against LGBTQ+ people
    • Research and action on antisemitism
  • Tech platform accountability and action
    • Evidencing platform harms
    • Digital policy and regulation
  • Strong Cities Network
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December, 2023
ISD US Newsletter #1

Since 2006, ISD has been at the forefront of analyzing and delivering solutions to weaponized hate, disinformation and extremism around the world. The events of January 6th underscored the urgency of turning the tide on these threats before their impact becomes insurmountable. Already in 2020, ISD broke new ground working with US partners to safeguard the elections. This year, we took the decision to significantly scale up ISD-US, establishing a real-time extremism and disinformation threat monitoring and response capability in the lead up to the midterms. Combining advanced digital analysis of the threat landscape with communications and training on the front line, our US team worked to prevent violence, evidence the role of social media platforms in the proliferation of disinformation and hate, and protect the integrity of the election. This newsletter is a snapshot of recent ISD-US highlights.

 

In this newsletter:

 

  • Safeguarding Democracy; Protecting Communities; Countering Disinformation
    • Five key trends around the 2020 midterms
    • ISD research on the targetting of female candidates during midterms
    • Hate merch on major e-commerce sites Etsy, Redbubble and Teepublic
    • Upward trend of hate targeting the LGBTQ+ community
  • Building Resilience; Preventing Violence and Extremism
    • Threat detection and prevention
    • Building capacity for extremism prevention and interventions
    • The Strong Cities Network
  • Tech Platform Accountability and Action
    • Roe v. Wade
    • Election disinformation
    • Elon Musk and Twitter

 

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December, 2022
Insights No. 44

In December, German authorities arrested over 20 people accused of plotting a coup to overthrow the German government. They were part of a movement similar to ‘sovereign citizens’ called the Reichsbürger. In light of these arrests, ISD’s Senior Manager of Policy & Research Jakob Guhl and Research Manager Dominik Hammer wrote an Explainer of the movement, their beliefs and how they overlap with QAnon and other conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies.

 

Jakob, along with Senior Fellow Julia Ebner, provided expert commentary in the aftermath of these arrests, which saw concerning numbers of individuals with military backgrounds involved in a plot to overthrow the German government. His commentary appears in Vice NewsThe Independent, and Newsweek, to name a few, while Julia appeared on The News Agents podcast.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Tim Pool and YouTube profit from antisemitic Super Chats posted during Pool’s Ye Interview
  • Prevention Practitioners Network launches training materials to prevent targeted violence and terrorism among communities
  • ISD researchers feature in news pieces for the Washington Post, Euronews, Insider, VICE News and more.
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November, 2022
Insights No. 43

On the night of November 19, five people were killed and dozens injured in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs. The alleged shooter faces hate crime charges. Details continue to emerge, but the attack has exacerbated an already heated discourse. As ISD has noted, LGBTQ+ people in the US and elsewhere are increasingly being slurred as ‘groomers’ and ‘pedophiles’, with politicians and commentators invoking old baseless myths to roll back years of progress on rights and acceptance.

ISD found a substantial increase in engagement with posts using the terms ‘groomers’ and ‘pedophiles’ in the aftermath of the attack, as well as celebration from accelerationist neo-Nazi groups, and posts sympathetic to the attack from right-wing influencers.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Colorado Springs shooting: The latest in a transnational, upward trend of anti-LGBTQ hate
  • What the UK migrant centre attack tells us about contemporary extremism trends
  • Explainer spotlight: Sovereign Citizens movement
  • ISD analysts feature in news pieces from Mother Jones, MSNC, Euro News, Axios and more.
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November, 2022
Insights No. 42

ISD and CASM Technology are pleased to announce the launch of our Beam website. Beam began as a partnership between ISD and CASM in 2015 which, from the beginning, had two key emphases: the capability to detect information threats at scale, and empowering more effective ways of responding to them. Since then, our award-winning technology has paved the way for researchers to custom design their own data collection and analysis ‘architectures’ by bringing data from various social media platforms under a single format. Users can then categorise data, analyse behaviour and identify trends among communities. Information can be synthesised into outputs including dashboards, data visualisations, regular reporting and alerts. This technology has been the basis for investigations of election disinformation in the US, Australia and France; information operations and disinformation about the Ukraine and Syria conflicts; climate disinformation in and around COP26 and COP27; and more. More information on Beam and how to get involved is available on our website.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Election disinformation thrives following social media platforms’ shift to short-form video content
  • Social media platforms and the drop box monitoring ecosystem
  • Explainer feature on the ‘New World Order’
  • ISD analysts feature in news pieces from BBC Panorama, POLITICO, Bloomberg, AP, the Washington Post and more.
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November, 2022
Insights No. 41

As the US midterms approach, ISD analysts are monitoring threats to officials, election workers and voters, across a range of online spaces, with increased concern. On the same day as Head of Elections Jiore Craig spoke to CNN about the risks posed by poll watchers, a man allegedly sought to kidnap or assassinate Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Suspect David DePape is alleged to have attacked her husband with a hammer and has being charged with, among other things, attempted murder. ISD’s analysis of suspect DePape’s online footprint and conspiratorial beliefs led ABC News’ coverage of the attack.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • 100 Days after US Supreme Court decision overturns Roe v. Wade: Are platforms doing enough?
  • First evaluation of London’s Shared Endeavour Fund: £800,000 awarded to 31 projects addressing intolerance, hate & extremism
  • ISD Germany researches right-wing extremist online subcultures: reports now available in English
  • Climate Action Against Disinformation’s (CAAD) COP27 Intelligence Unit, overseen by ISD, launches its COP27 newsletter
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October, 2022
Insights No. 40

New research from ISD highlights the failure of social media platforms to set policy, and act, on abortion misinformation. In the aftermath of the leaking of the US Supreme Court’s decision on the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which had the effect of overturning Roe v Wade, misinformation about abortions as well as about ‘abortion reversal’ pills and procedures ran rampant across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

 

As the US midterms loom, platforms are under pressure to make the right calls on preventing the spread of mis- and disinformation about the elections. Their reaction to the overturning of Roe v Wade and the resulting huge change in access to abortions for many, is in some sense a test-run for this. The platforms had substantial notice that this outcome was likely, and therefore had time to create and enforce policies on misinformation about abortion. They mostly failed to adopt policies to deal with this, and where they did so those policies were inadequately enforced. This does not bode well for the likelihood that they will act decisively on mis- and disinformation related to the midterms. This is especially concerning given the importance of these midterms, which will act as an inflection point for the survival of American democracy itself.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Violence in Leicester, UK: Understanding online escalation and offline fallout
  • Eight trends from election denialists to watch in the US midterm elections
  • How QAnon conspiracy theories legitimise coordinated and targeted gender-based violence
  • Have the EU sanctions against Russian-state media worked? ISD finds steady website traffic & circumvention methods at play
  • Inside the ‘Journalisten Friekorps’, a pro-Kremlin influence operation
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October, 2022
Insights No. 39

ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek was honoured to address the Christchurch Call Leaders’ Summit, convened by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron in New York during the margins of the UN General Assembly on 20 September. The two-hour roundtable brought together heads of state, including from Canada, Spain and Jordan, alongside senior representatives from social media platforms and civil society for a frank discussion of the Call’s progress in addressing terrorist and violent extremist activity online.

 

Drawing on ISD’s extensive digital research in this domain, Sasha spoke to the enduring challenges of platform moderation of such content, especially in non-English speaking contexts. She called for better data access for independent, third party review of social media platform algorithmic systems: ISD has long advocated for meaningful transparency and accountability of platform systems including independent audits to assess the extent of algorithmic amplification of harmful content. Sasha underscored the need to better understand the role of algorithms in the promotion of borderline content – such as disinformation, hate and conspiracy – that can lead users to more extreme content online and can itself inspire violence. She advocated for the extension of data access rules coming into effect under the EU’s Digital Services Act to other liberal democratic environments.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Pro-Kremlin network impersonates legitimate websites and floods social media with lies
  • Understanding Italian pro-Kremlin Twitter users’ behaviour in the lead up to the elections
  • How Eric Zemmour’s election campaign used petitions to distort online support ahead of the French elections
  • ISD panels several sessions at the 2022 Eradicate Hate Global Summit
  • ISD staff feature in articles and news segments such as WaPo, Insider, USA Today, Grid News, Le Monde, ZDF, the Irish Examiner and more.
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September, 2022
Insights No. 38

ISD released a new report detailing the depth and breadth of the ecosystem of pro-Islamic State ‘media outlets’ across social media. Our study, “The Terror Times“, authored by Moustafa Ayad, ISD Executive Director for Africa, Middle East and Asia, and researchers Nadeem Khan and Aymenn al-Tamimi, found 38 outlets across Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, with a collective following of 108,268. Some of the posts from these pages had garnered over a million views in a year, a number far larger than their following, indicating their propaganda has spread much wider than their core audience.

 

This report details the resilience mechanisms pro-Islamic State outlets are using to remain online despite the moderation efforts of social media companies. It also provides key recommendations for how both tech companies and governments can tackle the problem of terrorist propaganda being spread online.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Dispatch: Unpicking pro-Kremlin attempts to link the Baltic States with Nazism
  • Dispatch: The conversation about Australia’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament is at risk from disinformation and conspiracy theories
  • ISD research featured in articles and news segments such as  CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC, Insider, DW and more.
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August, 2022
Insights No. 37

A mere handful of Western influencers who are spreading pro-Kremlin misinformation about the war in Ukraine are enabling Russia to circumvent attempts to prevent its spread. ISD researchers identified 12 influencers from eight Western countries who have been reporting from Ukraine. The influencers have successfully amplified pro-Kremlin narratives, reaching hundreds of millions worldwide. Their content also features copies of Russian state media outputs, such as RT videos, which allows them to evade platform moderation and automatic disclaimer labels. Their posts have also been boosted by various Russian actors, such as government officials, diplomatic accounts and state media actors. To read this report, please contact us here.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Monkeypox and ‘groomers’: How Twitter facilitated a hate-riddled public health disinformation campaign
  • Error 404: RELIABLE INFORMATION NOT FOUND
  • The impact of election disinformation narratives on France’s online communities
  • Russian sympathisers label Finland fascist following its bid to join NATO
  • Tales from the underside: A Kremlin-approved hack, leak & doxxing operation
  • Intimidation tactics: A case study of digital violence against election candidates
  • ISD staff feature in articles and news segments such as  C-SPAN, NPRSalonNewsy, The HillNew Lines, Yahoo News and Insider.
Read More

August, 2022
Insights No. 36

The rights of LGBTQ+ people in the US are under sustained assault from far-right pundits, politicians and social media influencers.

 

These groups are using the monkeypox outbreak as a new opportunity to attack these people. ISD Analyst Aoife Gallagher wrote about the failure of Twitter to take seriously the threat to LGBTQ+ people posed by public health disinformation narratives attempting to link monkeypox in children to sexual contact with gay men. This ties in to the homophobic ‘groomer’ narrative, pioneered by the Twitter account ‘Libs of TikTok’, which directs a swarm of followers towards, among others, teachers in the US who are openly LGBTQ+, accusing them of ‘grooming’ their students.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Contextualising rhetoric around ‘fascism’ targeting Ukraine and Western support
  • A snapshot of pro-Kremlin narratives framing NATO as a ‘neo-Nazi’ and ‘White Supremacist’ organisation
  • The aftermath of pandemic disinformation trends: what can be done now?
  • Odysee, the latest right-wing extremist alt-platform with a twist
  • ISD staff feature in articles and news segments such as  LBC, Irish Examiner, Guardian, Washington Post and CNN.
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August, 2022
Insights No. 35

In July, ISD’s Head of Digital Integrity, Jiore Craig, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Administration on the growing threat of election disinformation from foreign and domestic sources. Domestic disinformation targeting voters remains a substantial threat to democracy. It is critical for platforms and policymakers to address systemic failures rather than focusing on content alone.

Jiore told Congress, “We cannot just debate which meme is more rooted in fact, or we will stay frozen in false debate around content where only those benefitting from disinformation win and the American people lose. We need to debate which systems at play in disinformation should change to end the downward spiral of trust that Americans have started to have in their own democracy and even more important, in each other”.

 

The full hearing, including Jiore’s statement and answers to questions by members of the Committee, is available on ISD’s website.

 

Also in this newsletter:

 

  • Propaganda primping: The ‘Kremlinistas’ of Twitter
  • RT articles are finding their way to European audiences – but how?
  • Iraqi gun sales on Facebook: The very real consequences of moderation failures
  • Researching the evolving online ecosystem: barriers, methods and future challanges
  • The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on French-speaking fringe communities online
  • The 2022 French elections expose the divisions wrought by the pandemic
  • Our staff feature in various media pieces including POLITICO, the New York Times, the AD,  Axios, and El País.
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July, 2022
Insights No. 34

On 4th July, a shooter opened fire at a parade in Highland Park, Chicago, killing seven. ISD’s rapid response and analysis identified this as a clear example of the awful form that hybridised threats to democracy can take. The suspect has no explicit ideological motive. He was, instead, immersed in communities that glorify violence, as explained by Melanie Smith, Head of ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, in an interview with NPR. This shooter’s actions resemble more those of a school shooter than a typical terrorist, but the deadly effects are the same.

 

The Highland Park shooting underlines how critical it is to better understand the hybridised nature of the online threat landscape. ISD’s report Mainstreamed Extremism and the Future of Prevention outlines the very real risks that this folding together of extreme ideologies and aesthetics, simmering hatred, and ubiquitous conspiracy theories, pose to democracy.

 

Also in this newsletter:

  • Our analysis of deadly disinformation about Syria
  • Russia Today digs deep to stay on YouTube
  • The ‘Info Defense’ network: Crowdsourcing soldiers for the information war
  • ISD insights features in various media pieces including leading German investigative TV magazine ARD Kontraste, Bloomberg, VICE and NPR.
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July, 2022
Insights No. 33

During the recent French elections, Russia’s ability to undermine the legitimacy of the presidental and parliamentary elections through social media manipulation was dampened. This was mainly thanks to the EU-wide ban on its state-controlled media as a result of its invasion of Ukraine.

 

However, elections remain a moment when social media’s vulnerability to manipulation to bad actors is exposed. It is heartening therefore that this recently published report by the Online Election Integrity Watch Group, in which ISD participates, showed that the impact of attempts to manipulate the information environment during the French elections was limited. This was primarily due to a more robust information ecosystem that is structurally difficult to manipulate without a substantial resource investment. Our recently released report explains why bad actors were unable to impact the election.

 

Nevertheless, pro-Kremlin information operations are continuing. An ISD investigation explored how Project Nemesis, a pre-Kremlin doxxing operation, is being used in Ukraine, with doxxing – the malicious sharing of opponents’ personal information – rapdily becoming a new frontier of informational warfare. Also in this newsletter:

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June, 2022
Insights No. 32

During COP26, ISD’s “war room” monitored online climate mis- and disinformation content intended to undermine climate action. This work put climate disinformation on the map, with the most recent IPCC report referring for the first time to deliberate attempts to undermine climate science by those with vested economic and political interests. This week, ISD followed up with a major report, Deny, deceive, delay: Documenting and responding to climate disinformation at COP26 and beyond, launched at the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The report maps and analyses the climate disinformation ecosystem, and provides recommendations for actions by policymakers, regulators and tech companies.

 

Also this week, we launched a report based on two years of research into terrorist content on Facebook in East Africa. This report documents the unmoderated and unchecked spread of pro-al-Shabaab and Islamic State content on the platform and beyond. Also in this newsletter:

  • Amnesty International released a statement expressing concern over our findings in East Africa, and calling on Facebook and government agencies to assist in mitigating further threats to digital democracies.
  • Dispatch: Unsubstantiated claims of foreign meddling will sow division and damage democracy
  • Antisemitic hate network manipulates media coverage to amplify its propaganda
  • ISD joined the Spotify Safety Advisory Council
  • ISD analysts offer commentary in various media pieces including The Conduit, Radio Télévision Suisse, the BBC, Newsweek.

 

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June, 2022
Insights No. 31

Conspiracy theories “thrive” in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, said ISD’s Head of Analysis Unit Melanie Smith in a conversation with Grid News about the horrific Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in late May. Following the tragedy that left 21 dead, including 19 children, fringe media and extremists once again began to post “false flag” operation narratives and revived other theories related to the timing the massacre.

 

But this pattern isn’t limited to events like these. Since our last Insights, ISD has been monitoring online discourse related to the ongoing outbreak of monkeypox. In a recent Dispatch, we outline the most prominent conspiracy theories from right after the outbreaks began and found they were “cut-and-paste” versions of COVID-19 narratives that emerged in 2020. In similar fashion, following the defeat of Australia’s self-described “freedom friendly minor parties”, many in Australia adopted US fraud narratives to justify their almost-complete loss. Also in this newsletter:

 

  • The ‘Great Reset’ conspiracy in Australia
  • What China’s sweeping algorithm regulation means for digital governance globally
  • Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine spreads on Facebook around Victory Day
  • ISD analysts offer commentary in various media pieces including Grid News, the BBC, ABC News and VICE News.

 

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May, 2022
Insights No. 30

Following the 14 May act of terrorism in Buffalo, New York, ISD analysed the resulting discussion online. We produced a Dispatch on the attempts made by a variety of actors to link the perpetrator to Azov Battalion, a regiment in the Ukrainian army with white supremacist links. Much like other recent acts of white supremacist terrorism, the shooter claims to have been inspired by the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. ISD has warned that this is becoming increasingly mainstreamed in 2019 in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack. This attack and the ecosystem in which the shooter was radicalised demonstrate the hybrid nature of the threat: extremist ideology, bolstered by radicalised conspiracy theories, motivated by hate. We will continue to work tirelessly to mitigate these threats. Also in this newsletter:

  • Our practical guide to tackling antisemitism is now available in German
  • Dark MAGA: The latest cycle in the far-right aesthetics laundromat
  • Unprompted and unwarranted: YouTube’s algorithm is putting young men at risk in Australia
  • After Bucha, here’s what to expect from the next phase of Russian disinformation in Ukraine
  • YouTube’s Super Chats tool enables the platform to profit from misinformation
  • ISD features in various media pieces including, Channel 4, BBC World News, VICE News, Tortoise, NBC, and Bloomberg.
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May, 2022
Insights No. 29

Given the ongoing war in Ukraine, ISD is continuing to analyse Russian information operations. We have identified the origins of the #IStandWithRussia campaign, explored an antisemitic conspiracy theory being used to justify the invasion, and uncovered a network of Twitter accounts that appeared to have been hijacked to spread pro-Chinese Communist Party narratives including blaming the US for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Also in this newsletter:

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April, 2022
Insights No. 28

ISD has launched a new hub to keep up with the latest in our analysis of the Russia-Ukraine war, focusing on online disinformation, conspiracy theories and extremist mobilisation. Since the last edition of Insights, we’ve explored how pro-Putin “power-users” are faking grassroots support for the Kremlin on Facebook; shown that the most shared posts on the Bucha atrocities on Facebook engaged in war crimes denialism; and analysed the consequences the RT and Sputnik ban is having in France during the election period.

In the media, ISD’s Ciarán O’Connor is featured in a VICE documentary about the anti-government ‘Sovereign-Citizen’ movement, while Julia Smirnova spoke to VICE News about a pro-Kremlin ‘cyber army’  movement, and Jiore Craig featured on Australian national broadcaster ABC, explaining our new project to track disinformation around the Australian elections. Also in this newsletter:

For more of our ongoing Russia-Ukraine analysis, visit our regularly updated hub.

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April, 2022
Insights No. 27

ISD continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine and the spread of disinformation by pro-Kremlin actors in Russia and abroad. Our latest research shows how the war has sparked an influx of disinformation among conspiracy groups, and how a network of accounts linked with the Chinese Communist Party is supporting Putin’s war. We also explore the policy precedent set by the banning of RT and Sputnik across Europe.

 

ISD’s Ciarán O’Connor appeared on a panel discussing the narratives being pushed by Russia and Ukraine, while Tim Squirrell spoke to UnHerd about the splits that may be created within the far-right because of the war, and Jasmine El-Gamal wrote an op-ed about the future of refugee policy within Europe after the exodus of millions of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. Also in this newsletter:

For more of our ongoing Russia-Ukraine analysis, visit our newly launched hub.

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March, 2022
Insights No. 26

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, ISD is focussing on the concurrent information war. Our research shows how pro-Kremlin narratives are seeping into the mainstream, slowly engraining into conspiracy groups, exploiting wedge issues to create a chaotic information environment and prevent public opinion hardening against Russia.

 

We’ve exposed how RT is circumventing social media restrictions with the assistance of their fanbase, and the Kremlin’s use of traditional Cold War propaganda in the form of ‘whataboutisms’. Our CEO Sasha Havlicek appeared on Radio 4’s Today discussing the last two decades of Western response to Putin, while Julia Smirnova helped the Washington Post debunk a viral video claiming the death of a German boy was caused by Ukrainian refugees, and Elise Thomas spoke with the New York Times about the Kremlin’s pragmatic approach to propaganda narratives. Also in this newsletter:

  • QAnon’s imminent pro-China shift?
  • Gettr’s failure to launch in France and Germany
  • Anti-lockdown analysis: US and Italy
  • New war, old Soviet propaganda tactic: ‘whataboutism’
  • Why Western conspiracy influencers are promoting pro-Kremlin propaganda

ISD News:

  • Webinar alert: The Strong Cities Network invites you to their next Together for Safety series webinar, Safe City Governance: The Role of Networks and Alliances, on 7 April. More info here.

For more of our ongoing Russia-Ukraine analysis, visit our regularly updated hub.

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March, 2022
Insights No. 25

The ISD team has been mobilising its counter-disinformation operation around the unfolding human tragedy in Ukraine, which will shape our geopolitical landscape for decades to come.

We are providing continuous analysis across our areas of expertise, focusing on the spread of disinformation on TikTokFacebook and Telegram, while also identifying pro-Kremlin influence operations on Twitter. Our CEO, Sasha Havlicek, joined Sky News’ ‘The Great Debate’ discussing the Ukraine/Russia conflict, while Julia Smirnova helped POLITICO understand how Telegram has become a central hub for Russian state narratives, and Ciaran O’Connor spoke to AP News about his research on pro-Kremlin disinformation on TikTok. Also in this newsletter:

  • Hate and harassment during the 2021 German federal elections
  • Conspiracy clickbait networks seize opportunity to run ‘Freedom convoy’ Facebook groups
  • The problem with preprints

ISD News:

  • Last call for our final session of the Be Internet Citizens programme
  • Webinar alerts: Conversions & convergence: Side-switching extremists and the threat of reciprocal radicalisation (16 March); Safeguarding Local Democracies (17 March).
  • Podcast: Jennie King talks to Stop Funding Heat about the latest trends in climate mis- and disinformation.
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February, 2022
Insights No. 24

In this issue of Insights, ISD reports on two years of research on Australian political fringes, analyses identitarian mobilisation around the 2022 French presidential election, tracks growing online sales of fake COVID-19 health passes in France, and takes an in-depth look at German-language antisemitic YouTube video comments. Also in this newsletter:

Events:

Media: 

  • Ciarán O’Connor speaks to France 24 on the connections between the Canadian truckers’ convoy, the North American far right, and how that translates across the Atlantic.
  • ISD’s CEO Sasha Havlicek featured on BBC Radio 4’s series ‘Death by Conspiracy’ to talk about the changing social media landscape, algorithms and the pressure the pandemic put on existing models.
  • Elise Thomas features in Australia’s national broadcaster’s (ABC) 7.30 on the ‘Canberra Convoy,’ discussing the eclectic nature of the protests taking place in the country’s capital, a movement that may be small in numbers but loud in significance.
  • Moustafa Ayad spoke to POLITICO about ISD’s research into online Islamist networks on mainstream social media, despite platform policies banning extremist content.
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February, 2022
Insights No 23
In this issue of Insights, ISD tracks the uptick in far-right Identitarian activity during the ongoing French presidential campaign; releases two new country profiles in the anti-lockdown series; and offers analysis and commentary on the Canadian truckers’ convoy and its international copies. Also in this newsletter:

Events: 

Media: 

  • Ciaran O’Connor speaks to POLITICO on how support for the Canadian truckers’ convoy from U.S. political figures and content creators gave the protests the push needed to appeal to a global audience.
  • Iris Boyer and Zoe Fourel were featured by Ouest France regarding their research on the sale of French COVID-19 vaccination certificates across social media platforms.
  • Tim Squirrell spoke to LBC about mainstreamed extremist narratives in the wake of the confrontation of Sir Keir Starmer outside of Parliament after false accusations that he chose not to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
  • Simeon Dukic discusses leading ISD research on online extremism in North Macedonian during a television interview with Sitel TV.
Read More

January, 2022
Insights No 22

Highlights:

In this issue of Insights, ISD sheds light on the highly lucrative business behind conspiracy clickbait, exposes signals of coordinated behaviour between pro-CCP influencers and analyses Novak Djokovic’s influence in the Australian anti-vaxx sceneAlso in this newsletter:

Events: 

  • Strong Cities Network webinar on 2 February: Rehabilitation & reintegration of family members of foreign terrorist fighters: the roles of cities and other local actors. Sign up here.
  • ISD’s Jiore Craig joins Doctors for America for a virtual event on 10 February. Sign up here.

Media: 

  • Aoife Gallagher and Ciarán O’Connor spoke with VICE News about the recent controversy surrounding Djokovic’s vaccine status at the 2022 Australian Open.
  • ISD’s Tim Squirrell comments to The Guardian about the need for support services “and other kinds of non-securitised intervention” for at-risk young men in online incel forums who are instead getting caught up in counter-terrorism programmes.
  • Analyst Richard Kuchta spoke with RTVS, the national Slovak broadcaster, about how social media bans are rarely applied in cases of community standard violations as platforms attempt to retain users from going elsewhere.
  • Speaking with AP News on his latest reportCiarán O’Connor explains how COVID-19 fears have ultimately been exploited by conspiracists to attract new recruits “whose loyalty may outlast the pandemic.”
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January, 2022
ISD’s Year Ahead: 2022

In this special issue, we share with you an exciting preview of what lies ahead in 2022 across our regional teams, research and programming, and hope you’ll join us as we continue to work for a brighter and more hopeful year! 

 

With 2021 now in the rearview, our teams are gearing up to bring you the latest analyses around disinformation, hate and extremism in numerous spheres and as many countries prepare for election years. We are particularly excited about the expansion of ISD-US in 2022, and the Strong Cities Network soon to be running regional hubs in the Balkans, West Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Here are some highlights from this issue:

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December, 2021
Insights No 21

Highlights:

In this issue of Insights, ISD breaks down the anti-lockdown movements in Canada and Ireland, releases a prototype taxonomy for classifying terrorist and violent extremist content, and lays bare a global network pushing to undermine women’s and LGBTQ+ rights in Hungary. Also in this newsletter:

Events:

  • ISD’s Milo Comerford and Moustafa Ayad were hosted by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University for a virtual discussion event on Salafism and Alt-Right Online Subcultures.
  • Jennie King, who recently led ISD’s efforts in tracking climate change misinformation during COP26, joins Kantar Public experts to discuss climate change disinformation.

ISD in the Media:

  • Moustafa Ayad wrote an op-ed for WIRED about Gen-Z jihadists and the varying aspects that influence their outlooks and social media use as the post-September 11 generation.
  • ISD’s Jacob Davey spoke with Sky News on their investigation into openly available antisemitic, racist, and generally extremist podcast material on Spotify.
  • Aoife Gallagher features in this article by VICE News on the growing interconnectedness between the far-right and antivaccine movements in countries around the world.
  • ISD’s Paula Matlach spoke with the Berliner Morgenpost on our findings from the 2021 German federal elections.
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December, 2021
Shutterstock
Insights No 20

Highlights:
In this issue of Insights, ISD sheds light on a significant but little-known extremist ecosystem on Instagram, the German far-right’s tactics during the recent federal elections, and how to better detect hate speech on video platforms like YouTubeAlso in this newsletter: 

Events:

  • As part of the United States Summit for Democracy series, ISD brought together experts for a closed discussion on the issue of data provision from online platforms for research.
  • Our Strong Cities Network hosted the virtual Africa Summit: Supporting City-Led Efforts to Address Hate, Polarisation and Extremism, alongside the County Government of Mombasa and the Kilindini Coalition. 
  • On 1 December, ISD convened government officials and regulators from Five Eyes and European countries for a session of the Digital Policy Lab focused on threats to election integrity.
  • As part of a project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV), ISD Germany recently held its first annual expert conference “In the Blind Spot – How Right-Wing Extremists Use Alternative Online Platforms for Radicalisation” in Berlin.

ISD in the Media:

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November, 2021
Shutterstock
Insights No 19

Highlights:
In this issue of Insights, ISD takes a deeper look at the rapidly evolving online Salafi ecosystem, uncovers the re-emergence of a pro-Russian propaganda outlet on Facebook, and finds that TikTok is failing to tag almost 60% of COVID-19 vaccine-related content, while YouTube is failing to remove antivaxx misinformation more broadly. Also in this newsletter: 

Events:

ISD in the Media:

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November, 2021
Shutterstock
Insights No 18

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

  • ISD’s Jennie King and Chloe Colliver joined the EU Disinfo Lab’s annual conference in their return to physical format in Brussels.
  • Our Jacob Davey participated in the opening conference of RUSI’s Far-Right Extremism and Terrorism (FRET) Research Programme. Watch it here.

ISD in the Media:

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October, 2021
Shutterstock
Insights No 17

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

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September, 2021
Shutterstock
Insights No 16

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

  • Web panel: ISD’s Sasha Havlicek on the threat of disinformation to European Democracy
  • Event: A plan for action: Ten years since the terrorist attacks in Norway

ISD in the Media:

  • Sky News, “What is the legacy of 9/11?” – our CEO, Sasha Havlicek, sat down with Sky News to speak about the legacy of the ‘War on Terror.’ Watch it here.
  • ARD Media Thek (German), “Die Story im Ersten: Wahlkampf undercover” – ISD’s Chloe Colliver and Jakob Guhl are featured in a documentary following PR firms’ interests and involvement with political parties around elections.
  • POLITICO, “Jihadists flood pro-Trump social network with propaganda” – Moustafa Ayad comments on the Islamists extremists exploiting GETTR, the alt-right social media platform started by Trump’s inner circle.
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July, 2021
Hernán Piñera
Insights No 15

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • BBC’s Newsnight, Chloe Colliver speaks with Newsnight about the risks of radicalization, and radicalization toward violence, after prolonged exposure to extremists and disinformation narratives such as antivaxx conspiracies.
  • The Wall Street Journal, “After Trump Ban, Facebook Oversight Panel Pushes for More Say” – Our CEO Sasha Havlicek comments on Facebook’s Oversight Board and how it could better orient its focus toward its business practices, the design of its product and algorithms.
  • POLITICO, “Voter fraud misinformation gains momentum in Germany” – Julia Smirnova and Chloe Colliver spoke with POLITICO about ISD‘s research on the far-right and voter fraud narratives in Germany ahead of nationwide elections.
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June, 2021
Insights No 14

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • BBC News Africa, “The Door Closed and Then I Heard the Shots” – Aoife Gallagher contributes to a short documentary on a fatal shooting by the Gardaí (Irish police) and the role of disinformation in the case.
  • POLITICO, “Boris Johnson’s phone number breach fails to prompt tighter security” – Daniel Maki talks with Politico about how government officials should use disposable burners in order to deter hackers.
  • The Irish Times, “Why are women more hesitant to get the Covid-19 vaccine?” – Cecile Guerin quoted in this article looking at COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among women.
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May, 2021
Photo: Hello I'm Nik
Insights No 13

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • Tortoise Media, “Climate is the new front in the culture wars” – A long read article by Jennie King outlining how climate disinformation is the next big topic to be exploited by extremists to serve their interests.
  • Bild, “Antisemitische Hetze bleibt oft unbestraft” – Coverage of ISD’s research on antisemitic online hate speech in Germany, with comment from Huberta von Voss of ISD Germany.
  • USA Today, “Is Amazon recommending books on QAnon and white nationalism? Browsing books can lead to extremist rabbit hole” – Chloe Colliver discusses ISD’s recent report on Amazon algorithms promotion of extremist content.
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April, 2021
Insights No 12

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • The Times (UK), “Facebook ads lure users to conspiracy videos” – Milo Comerford remarks on how anti-vaxx and conspiracy-laden ads target users in Ireland through Facebook.
  • The Independent, “QAnon: How the US Satanic paedophile cult conspiracy theory took root in Europe” – Jakob Guhl comments on QAnon’s resonance in Germany
  • Vice, “Canadian Facebook Groups Spreading Anti-Vax Conspiracies Jumped by Almost 50%: Study” – More coverage of ISD’s COVID-19 disinformation monitor for Canada, as seen in Digital Dispatches.
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February, 2021
Insights No 11

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • CNN, Don Lemon Tonight: Chloe Colliver spoke to Don Lemon as a featured guest on January 15th and January 21st
  • Cécile Guerin talks about the interaction between the yoga world and QAnon from her personal experience in Wired
  • BBC News, “Biden inauguration: What are far-right Trump supporters saying?” – Ciaran O’Connor looks at the aftermath of the Biden inauguration and its effect on the far right.
Read More

January, 2021
photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
Insights No 10

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • New York Times, “QAnon is still spreading on Facebook, despite a ban.” – Exclusive coverage of ISD’s reporting with NewsGuard on QAnon and Facebook
  • Slate, “Keep Calm and QAnon” – Amarnath Amarasingam writes on how pro-Trump conspiracy theories may have actually discouraged postelection violence
  • GNET Research, “Digital Extremism in German-Speaking Countries During the COVID-19 Crisis” – Op-ed by ISD’s Jakob Guhl covering research on the COVID-19 crisis in Germany

 

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November, 2020
Photo by NeONBRAND
Insights No 9

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • BBC Two’s “In the Face of Terror” features Jacob Davey and the digital analysis team (UK only)
  • BBC News “The TikTok Election,” features Jennie King, Chloe Colliver, and Ciaran O’Connor
  • NBC News, “Tech platforms continue to let U.S.-based hate groups use them to make payments” – Jacob Davey discusses ISD’s recent report, “Bankrolling Bigotry.”
Read More

October, 2020
Image by visuals/unsplash
Insights No 8

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • BBC World Service, Newshour – Rashad Ali speaks on on the arrest of a hoax ISIS foreign fighter in Canada (Listen from 14:00).
  • National Public Radio, “Social Media Companies Brace For Post-Election Threats” – Chloe Colliver discusses what social media platforms should be doing to respond to election misinformation and voter suppression.
  • The Today Show (NBC) – Aoife Gallagher discusses the rise of QAnon and Facebook’s recent ban of QAnon content.
Read More

September, 2020
Insights No 7

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • CNN.com: ISD’s Farah Pandith on what we’ve learned 19 years after the September 11th attacks.
  • BBC Click: ISD’s Moustafa Ayad and Carl Miller discuss the finding of the largest ISIS digital archive online
  • The Real Story, BBC World Service: ISD’s Aoife Gallagher joins a panel of experts to discuss whether QAnon is a harmless online fantasy or a dangerous threat to truth, democracy and public safety around the world.
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August, 2020
Insights No 6

Highlights

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media:

  • The Stream, Al Jazeera: ISD’s Moustafa Ayad and Amar Amarasingam discuss the ways ISIS are resurging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Scope, Indus News: ISD’s Zahed Amanullah speaks to Pakistan’s Indus News on on anti-Muslim Covid-19 related racism in the UK.
  • News at Ten, BBC: ISD’s Chloe Colliver speaks to BBC’s News at Ten about privacy and security concerns regarding TikTok and the Chinese government.
Read More

July, 2020
Image by Lewis Parsons
Insights No 5

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

ISD in the Media: 

  • BBC News: Chloe Colliver, head of digital policy & analysis, joined Facebook’s vice president of northern europe to discuss a growing advertising boycott over hate speech and misinformation on its platform.
  • RTE: Milo Comerford, Senior Policy Manager, spoke about Ireland’s ‘new nationalists’ and their relationship to the transnational far-right.
  • BBC News: Two decades on, Sasha Havlicek, CEO, discussed the difference between the War on Terror’s rhetoric and reality with Security Correspondent Frank Gardner
Read More

June, 2020
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra
Insights No 4

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

  • Podcast: Julia Ebner (Senior Research Fellow) talked to Hannah MacInnes (journalist) about what she discovered on her journey undercover in extremist circles for How To Academy

ISD in the Media:

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May, 2020
Insights No 3

Highlights:

Speaking engagements: 

ISD in the Media: 

 

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May, 2020
Insights No 2

Highlights:

Speaking engagements: 

ISD in the Media:

  • ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit provided data and commentary to the New York Times for its article The Coronavirus Becomes a Battle Cry for U.S. Extremists.
  • BBC News interviewed Chloe Colliver in a report examining the sources and spread of misinformation online about the pandemic.
  • Sasha Havlicek (CEO) joined Damian Collins MP and journalist Edward Lucas on the Infotagion podcast to discuss state-sponsored disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.
Read More

April, 2020
Photo by Engin Akyurt
Insights No 1

Highlights:

Speaking engagements:

  • Webinar: ‘Using Social Listening to confront Covid 19,’ Skoll World Forum. Sasha Havlicek, Carl Miller, Chloe Colliver, and Zahed Amanullah explored the intersection between the current Covid 19 pandemic and the polarisation of global societies through hate and disinformation.

ISD in the Media:

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