December 30, 2022 | BBC

Pandemic prompted an increase in conspiratorial thinking, online extremism

As we continue working through the impact of years of COVID-19, researchers and international organisations are recognising the heavy rise in extremism. ISD’s Head of Communications and Editorial, Tim Squirrell, and Head of Research & Policy on the Far Right and Hate Movements, Jacob Davey, feature in the BBC speaking on the increase in online extremism and its affects.

“It might be people spending more time on their computer,” Jacob said, but there was also “a heightened sense of anxiety”. Conspiracies provided “easy answers” to people who are worried. This was especially visible on Telegram which quickly became a hub for “disinformation through to conspiracy theories, through to terrorist activity”. The apps design allows for groups to be easily accessible, meaning ‘more extreme networks can feed into seemingly innocent groups’.

Tim brought up the unmoderated nature of the app and how it is further prompting these groups to grow, especially among users that are kicked off other mainstream platforms.

“Telegram’s very unmoderated approach has meant that it functions as a centralising hub for a lot of different groups and individuals,” he said, “you can get kicked off Facebook or the mainstream social and video sharing platforms,” but “you can still maintain your audience on Telegram”.

As was the case of the accounts removed over QAnon conspiracies on Twitter. They rapidly “flooded over to Telegram”. Although the app allows for groups to grow freely, it can also interject at times since it isn’t secure or encrypted, Tim explained, and when they do decide to act, it’s hard for actors to re-engage.

The full article is available on the BBC.