Uisce Faoi Thalamh: Topic Analysis

Authors: Aoife Gallagher, Ciarán O’Connor & Francesca Visser

Published: 20 November 2023

This is the third of three reports in the series Uisce Faoi Thalamh. The first is the Summary Report which includes an introduction, key findings and recommendations arising from the research project, as well as a literature review, glossary and methodology. The second is Platforms which examines how online platforms are used to produce, promote and contribute to the circulation of mis- and disinformation in Ireland. The third is this report, Topics, which presents in-depth narrative analysis of the leading topics of discussions within this mis- and disinformation ecosystem.

This is the first landscape study of the online ecosystem where mis- and disinformation and conspiracy theories thrive in Ireland. The objective of this research was to understand, in an Irish context, how belief in conspiracy theories and mis- and/or disinformation brings distinct communities together; radicalises some into extreme belief systems; and motivates people to take real world action that sometimes results in violence. This research project explores the pandemic years and what has followed. It shines a light on how this mis- and disinformation ecosystem has been successfully co-opted by far-right actors who, after pandemic restrictions eased, have diverted attention towards targeting vulnerable communities. This more recent activity has revolved around mobilising against immigration by framing asylum seekers or refugees as an existential threat to Ireland and spreading hateful falsehoods about the LGBTQ+ community. The analysis draws on over 13 million posts published across 12 online platforms between 2020 and 2023. It examines the presence of individuals, organisations, alternative media and political parties involved in the dissemination of falsehoods about a range of topics. The results of this research indicate that the influence of the far-right in Ireland is growing. It also makes clear that tech companies are failing to enforce community guidelines designed to curb the spread of false, misleading and harmful content and activity on social media platforms and, in turn, emboldening the reach and influence of the far-right in Ireland.

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