Canadian right-wing extremism increases online during the pandemic

Canadian right-wing extremism increases online during the pandemic


A new report shows that despite the efforts of the government and social media companies to curb extremism and hate speech, online activities by right-wing extremists in Canada increased during the pandemic last year.

The report also found that right-wing extremists in Canada are being influenced by the increasingly violent counterparts in the United States.

The author of the new British report writes: “This raises concerns that the bold and increasingly violent far-right in the United States may help inspire similar activities in Canada, because Canadian right-wing extremists are seeking inspiration from their American counterparts.” The Institute for Strategic Dialogues will be made public later this week.

The report warns that this extremism may rise as the blockade restrictions are relaxed.

The report said: “Given that the pandemic may introduce a new audience for the far-right ideology,” the report said, “when the blockade is lifted, this may be related to a higher rate of activity by the far-right before the blockade. Level.”

A “heating environment”

Compared to what the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found when it first studied the issue in 2019, the report portrays an increase in far-right activity in 2020.

The author wrote: “The pandemic… created a frenetic environment for radicalization by ensuring that millions of people spend more time online.” “In a highly anxious environment, extremists can easily take advantage of this situation. .

“Due to the pandemic, extremist conspiracy theories prevail, and minority communities—especially Asians—are subject to increasing hate crimes and harassment.”

The report, which focuses only on right-wing extremism on the Internet, is scheduled to be released later this week, but is released to CBC News in advance.

Mackenzie Hart, one of the authors of the report, said that governments and social media companies should take the report’s findings seriously.

“We should pay attention to what is spread online,” Hart said. “It’s easy to disconnect between online and offline spaces, but we have seen the world…violence driven by right-wing extremism has increased by 250%.”

On December 12, 2020, Donald Trump supporters and members of the far-right group Proud Boys participated in a rally to protest the election results in Washington, DC. (Jim Urquhart/Canada Press)

The report said that so far, the government’s efforts to solve this problem have achieved limited results.

In February of this year, one month after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Secretary of Public Safety Bill Blair announced that some “ideologically motivated violent extremist groups”-including Pride Boys-had been added to Canada’s list of terrorist organizations. However, the researchers found that the organization is still operating publicly online.

The report stated: “We have identified two Telegram channels with supporters and members of the Canadian Proud Boys. Although the organization was designated as a terrorist entity in February 2021, these channels are still active at the time of writing.

In total, the researchers identified 2,467 right-wing extremist accounts, which generated 3.2 million pieces of content in 2020. Although these extremist accounts represent only a small portion of all social media accounts in Canada, they are capable of generating 44 million reactions.

Cross-border connection

Researchers have also discovered links between Canadian right-wing extremists and right-wing extremists in other countries.

Some Canadian accounts reviewed by researchers last year published hateful racial slurs. Others express anger towards specific people or groups. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the government’s COVID restrictions are often targeted.

Some accounts actively promote pandemic misinformation and conspiracy theories.

The researchers said that some of the accounts they reviewed in 2019 have been closed by companies such as Facebook – but many of them just reappeared under different names. According to the report, the result was as many extremist accounts as the previous year.

According to the report, other social media sites, such as Telegram and 4chan, have made little or no effort to adjust the speech on their platforms. The report described 4chan as a “center of extremist activity” and stated that hate speech on the platform has surged in recent years.

The report said: “This may be related to the normalization of hate speech on the platform, which has led to the development of a community in which hostile speech against minority communities is regarded as a standard daily activity.”

“Neo-Nazi Image”

On Telegram, the researchers identified 17 groups that focus on Canadian affairs—including seven channels that host white supremacist communities, seven channels that host nationalist communities, and one channel that hosts anti-Muslim communities.

Researchers also found on Telegram that the Canadian channel has “a large amount of content containing neo-Nazi images” and a channel related to “accelerationism”-the report describes it as “should accelerate social collapse through violence to allow white nation-states to be built .”

“This includes the promotion of memes that need to prepare for social collapse, as well as teaching content on survivalism, guerrilla tactics including surveillance and ambushes, guidelines for resisting interrogation, and the design of 3D printed guns,” the report said.

Researchers found that Gab is also a popular platform for white supremacists and nationalists.

Although YouTube deleted some accounts in violation of its terms of service, but the researchers found that YouTube removed five account with two migrated to an alternative video hosting platform BitChute. Throughout 2020, the pride of the boy often post on their BitChute channel.

Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters in Hamilton on Tuesday that tackling extremist activities online is a challenge.

“For our democracies, what is important is… we can freely exchange ideas and give people the opportunity to express themselves freely,” he said. “But we need to ensure that we continue to resolutely oppose violence, oppose incitement to violence, oppose encouraging hatred, oppose hate speech itself, these are all illegal in this country.”

Trudeau said that Canada must protect basic rights such as freedom of speech, while ensuring that Canadians are free from persecution and violence.

“Anyone who tells you that there is a simple answer is trying to sell you something,” he said.

Facebook spokesperson Meg Sinclair said the company has worked with Canadian experts such as Barbara Perry of the Ontario Institute of Technology to understand trends and prepare accordingly.

“We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook, and regularly work with experts, non-profit organizations, and stakeholders to help ensure that Facebook is a safe place for everyone,” she said. “We have invested heavily in AI technology to eliminate hate speech, and before reporting to us, we proactively detected 97% of the content we delete.”

Twitter declined to comment on the report, but provided a link to its online content policy.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

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