The COVID-19 pandemic is having a direct impact on the challenges ISD seeks to address. Bad actors and extremist groups are exploiting the pandemic and the anxieties emerging across the globe to further their extreme narratives and spread division and hate.

We are working to understand the ways this global health crisis is being used, co-opted and manipulated for extremist ends

Beyond the immediate public health emergency, this global crisis has profound effects on governance, social polarisation, the information landscape and political discourse, all of which have great relevance to how extremist ideologies are constructed and disseminated. Crises also present opportune moments for extremists across the ideological spectrum to mobilise.

In particular, ISD will be monitoring key issues emerging from the crisis including:

Extremist groups
Extremist groups, polarising forces and hostile state actors seizing on anxieties and grievances emerging across societies during the COVID-19 pandemic, positing supremacist, and violent solutions.

Populist authoritarian and national political groups
The political manipulation of this COVID-19 crisis by populist authoritarian and nationalist voices to mainstream divisive and polarising narratives.

The promulgation of othering ‘us and them’ narratives around COVID-19 and the targeting of vulnerable groups, through anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-migrant, and sectarian rhetoric.

The health of the wider COVID-19 information ecosystem, including the use of inauthentic coordinated information campaigns by state and non-state actors to distort or disrupt public information about the virus through online platforms.

Policy advice
Our Digital Policy Lab advises governments, cities and tech companies on policies and strategies to mitigate the online harms we face today and achieve a ‘Good Web’ that reflects our liberal democratic values, prioritises safety and public health, and sanctions harmful activity online.

Our analysis

ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit is analysing the unfolding ‘infodemic’ surrounding COVID-19, producing regular analysis and commentary on emerging trends and issues. This includes working with high-profile media outlets around the world on focused investigations.

We combine social listening and natural language processing tools with leading ethnographic researchers to better understand how technology is used by extremist and hateful groups.

“The far-right has dramatically increased its attention on certain topics in light of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Jacob Davey,
Senior Research Manager at ISD