Here at the Lynn Misinformation Cell we monitor and track misinformation as it moves through the social media sphere in order to understand the strategy of far-right and conspiracy groups. This is so we can better understand the communities where these narratives spread. We use these analyses to work on content recommendations that effectively fight against these narratives and slow their spread, thereby minimizing their harm to society.
It’s useful to ‘take the temperature’ of these smaller communities during major political events. Doing so allows us to understand the current state of misinformation and its possible effects on society at large.
In the aftermath of the no confidence vote in the prime minister, we turned our focus to the far-right conversation on Telegram, to see how they were exploiting the news. We analysed 20 Telegram groups, running in size from a few hundred to 50’000, based to the best of our knowledge in Britain. The groups were chosen because of their nominal right-wing basis, predilection to conspiracy, and subject matter. We surveyed anti-vax groups, nationalist chats, and far-right Aryan discussions, among others.
We came away with three key findings:
- Anti-democratic propaganda – democracy is the enemy of the far-right, and so they used this crisis to conflate the current British political establishment with democracy itself, encouraging voter apathy.
- Creeping Qanon narratives – Qanon might be a U.S-focused conspiracy theory, but the narrative components of it (e.g. a secret cabal of elites controlling the population) are widespread in the UK far-right,
- Attacking the Conservative party – In order to gain political power in our parliamentary system, the far-right’s best route is through the Conservative party. The far-right will seek to leverage all news to make the argument that the current party establishment is corrupt or weak, and needs to make way for a new, more radical leadership.
There were frequent and vociferous denials of the usefulness of voting and democracy. As well, there was widespread apathy towards all aspects of the voting process.
Many commenters said they did not believe the vote of no confidence was genuine, and that it was all planned out beforehand. This extended to general and local elections.
A common catch phrase was “the devil you know”, or some variation. Many commenters said they didn’t care who was prime minister, although Boris was a “known devil” so they wouldn’t mind him continuing. The prevalence of this phrase may be evidence of some form of Astro-turfing, wherein a super-spreader or otherwise notorious personalities have repeatedly used this phrase in relation to Boris Johnson in the recent past.
Connected to these sentiments were comments suggesting the World Economic Forum had some hand in the events, either they decided at Davos Boris must go, or were using the vote as a way to increase Johnson’s approval rating.
This narrative showed evidence of belief in widespread voter fraud, combined with apathy towards voting in general. This narrative suggests many have lost faith in the voting process and do not see voting as important or even necessary. All politicians are, they suggest, the same as each other and it doesn’t matter who is in charge. There is, they suppose, little reason to be active in politics because one’s own actions are incapable of changing anything.
Pushes towards widespread voter apathy is a common stance for misinformation actors, who seek to disrupt the voting process.
Creeping Qanon narratives
There is evidence that Qanon narratives are having a considerable influence on the general right-wing ecosphere.
There were repeated suggestions either that “white hats” were working to secure the vote or were being pushed out because of it. There were also references to the narrative of a cabal of leaders controlling events behind the scenes.
Many users suggested they were watching pre-planned political theatrics and the events being akin to a movie or show.
While rare, there were several unchallenged references to the queen being “fake” or a clone, and suggestions that many leaders have already been executed or replaced with lookalikes. These comments were engaged with positively, with no one contesting the strange narratives.
There were many references to Boris having committed treason. Commenters expressed a desire for him and other leading politicians to go on trial for crimes against humanity, and in extreme cases to be summarily hanged.
These narratives show the extent that Qanon has permeated fringe groups, conspiracy forums and right-wing thinking.
Attacking the Conservative party
The final take away is the overriding and pervasive dislike of the Conservative party and the leading politicians. This was not just reserved for Boris Johnson, but all the cabinet members, previous prime ministers, and Matt Hancock in particular, who was especially disliked.
Commenters were divided between wanting Boris removed and wanting him to stay. These twin ideas did not stem from support for the Conservatives or desire for a Labour government. Users often expressed a desire for Boris to be removed from power because of his crimes against humanity, or for him to stay in power because “the devil you know”.
The conservative party was widely condemned, not for specific policy failures or actions, but for general corruption or supposed crimes against humanity. The fact of Boris having broken lockdown laws to attend parties was barely discussed in the groups we surveyed.
Matt Hancock was discussed far more than other politicians except for Boris. This despite no longer being a sitting MP. There were inferences that he had run away and would no longer be prosecuted for his supposed crimes.
This is not to say that other political parties are now preferred to the Conservatives. Labour and the Green Party were just as disliked, and the Lib Dems were not mentioned at all. These sentiments are perhaps an extension of the apathy towards the voting process and democracy in general that was also noticed in the groups. All politicians are corrupt and potentially chosen by cabal forces, so voting is a waste of time.
We found this surprising as right-wing and conspiracy groups often support the Conservative party as the lesser of 2 evils in British politics.
Threats of real-world violence
In all, there were few suggestions that the groups or individuals were likely to be responsible for threats to violence in the real world. There were only 2 references to potential real-world meetings: the first, identical spammed messages expressing support for an apparently wrongly imprisoned man; and the second were spammed messages endorsing a protest outside parliament. Neither had any engagement, although both were spammed across several groups and discussions. The likelihood of a large-scale protest or meeting based on these discussions is unlikely.
This article was written by Adam Belcher, Deputy Head Of The Misinformation Cell