Against the backdrop of Pride month, a time in which the LGBTQ+ community commemorate the Stonewall Riots, there spawned a conspicuous attack on inclusivity by far-right groups – amplified through encrypted echo-chambers. Instant messaging services such as Telegram have been hijacked by the far-right to mainstream their ideology and to demonstrate a purported dichotomy between patriotism and diversity.
Throughout the month of June, The Misinformation Cell embedded itself in radical online spaces to track six of the most notorious far-right communities in the United Kingdom with a combined active membership of over 50,000, thematically analysed 240 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ content, and identified twelve superspreaders who were responsible for propagating over 50% of the adversarial narratives recorded.
This analysis uncovered that whilst Telegram groups are not being used to actively radicalise or find new recruits, they are being used to reinforce hateful narratives in those already committed to extremist ideologies. Ideas or events that concern liberal or left-wing social issues are attacked and denigrated, with news reinforcing their world view widely shared. Diversity and inclusivity are the core issues being attacked, with a particular focus on the LGBTQ+ community being blamed for a plethora of issues as varied as COVID-19 and other diseases, high petrol prices and the increasing cost of living, and even the Ukrainian crisis. All in the name of patriotism. These groups view patriotism as a positive force that is in opposition to diversity and minorities.
The groups are all right-wing echo chambers, two of which visibly drifted further right during the pandemic. ‘Great British Bird’ evolved from a previous sovereign citizen group that welcomed diversity, into a far-right conspiracy group; ‘The Expose News’ was a predominantly anti-vaxx media outlet that has allowed far-right beliefs to take precedence.
Conspiracies and other fringe beliefs are also prevalent within the groups.
Using The Misinformation Cell’s bespoke Misinformation Intelligence Assessment, six Telegram group chats were surveyed for the duration of Pride month. This analysis uncovered a plethora of content that promoted adversarial narratives or were purposely misrepresented by the groups. The Misinformation Cell traced content as far as possible to the original source to determine the individual superspreaders of the hateful content.
The groups surveyed had a combined active membership of over 50,000 with on average 8 anti-LGBTQ posts shared every day. Each group shared an average of 1.3 anti-LGBTQ posts every day. The posts generated widespread engagement with the group’s members.
Britain First is the official Telegram group for the Britain First political group. The group has 22,895 members.
Great British Bird is a British sovereign citizen group with 18,112 members.
Daily Expose is a British based media outlet that focuses on conspiracies and COVID denial. The Telegram group has 13,278 members.
The Reality Report is a Britain based conspiracy website. The chat has 7,828 members.
Proud Boys Britannia claims to be the official Proud Boys Telegram group for Britain. The chat has 3,749 members.
The Resistance England, is a self-described “British Patriotic” group, with 1209 members.
The content promoted hateful views of all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, with a particular focus on trans people and drag artists. Pride month and Pride marches were frequently described as “degenerate” or harmful to the nuclear family, with participants being often described as mentally ill.
Significant amounts of shared content in the groups were misrepresentations of mainstream media news articles. However, there were large amounts of purposely hateful narratives being shared. Many recent items of news which negatively portray the LGBTQ+ community were misrepresented or exaggerated in order to portray the community as corrupt or decadent.
The most common hateful narrative concerned biological differences between men and women. Many commentators asked, “what is a woman?” or framed gender neutrality as an attack on masculinity. A common right-wing meme is to accuse someone of believing in 100 genders, or substituting the letter X into gendered words, both intending to highlight the apparent ridiculousness of the idea.
The Misinformation Cell found that 12 superspreaders are responsible for just over 50 per cent of the shared content in the groups surveyed. Several individuals were shared widely across all the groups surveyed, such as the American conservative personality, Matt Walsh, whose content was heavily promoted by each group. Walsh recently released a film titled “What is a Woman?” and content relating to this film from a variety of sources was one of the most commonly shared items.
The most linked websites were US based conspiracy and alt news sites, with Breitbart shared more than others. However, there were some British far-right sites being promoted as well.
The Misinformation Cell also noticed several small-scale British anti-vaxx organisations promoted, suggesting some members of the groups are active in British anti-vaxx and sovereign citizen communities. Although, there was little active advertising for these organisations. The top superspreaders of anti-LGBTQ+ content that The Misinformation Cell identified are as follows:
- Tommy Robinson
- Matt Walsh
- Libs of TikTok
- Daily Mail
- Just a Dude
- Fox News
- Paul Joseph Watson
- New York Post
- National Pulse
- The Epoch Times
- GB News
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This article was written by Adam Belcher, Deputy Head of The Misinformation Cell, and Elliot Davies, Account Manager.