A new study on online disinformation in Ireland has revealed that the influence of the far-right is growing and has a crucial role in spreading harmful and misleading content about several topics, including LGBTQ+ people and migrants.
Published by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the Uisce Faoi Thalamh: An Investigation into the Online Mis- and Disinformation Ecosystem in Ireland report analysed over 13 million posts from 1,640 accounts across 12 online platforms between January 2020 and April 2023. The results outline how misinformation and conspiracy theories are spread across social platforms since the start of the Covid pandemic.
The study found that activity within the “disinformation ecosystem” has grown across all platforms in Ireland. It also highlighted clear enforcement gaps on platforms that fail to eliminate misleading and harmful content, with X (formerly Twitter) being the platform with the most activity by actors within the disinformation ecosystem.
According to the study, far-right groups and individuals play a major role in spreading disinformation in Ireland. “Hateful ideologies spread with ease, with support for white nationalism, antisemitism and Islamophobia observed on platforms like Telegram and Instagram, while Holocaust denial and the promotion of Nazi material by Irish actors were constant on alternative platforms like Gettr and Gab,” the study highlighted.
Unveiling “Uisce Faoi Thalamh”: A groundbreaking investigation into Ireland’s online mis- and #DISINFORMATION ecosystem. Dive deep into the research findings by @ISDglobal , revealing the complexities of digital spaces. Explore the full report: https://t.co/G2c4yUVRQC pic.twitter.com/MSGV513Gsq
— EDMO Ireland Hub (@Ireland_EDMO) November 20, 2023
Many of these actors were found to spread misinformation about Covid, also employing violent rhetoric against Irish politicians in relation to the introduction of restrictions in the country. Threatening rhetoric was also employed in discussions about “the arrival to Ireland of tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from 2022 onwards, and teaching children about LGBTQ+ issues.”
As the report explains, “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”.
In particular, the study found that these far-right groups and individuals regularly portray LGBTQ+ people as a danger to children and as “groomers”, with the slur mentioned in 3,544 posts shared 2.58 million times during the research period. Moreover, the report highlighted that discussions on LGBTQ+ issues mostly related to international news and commentary, with the notable exception of Enoch Burke, an Irish teacher who falsely claimed to have been fired due to his opposition to “transgenderism”.
Another popular topic amid discussions on LGBTQ+ groups was the library protests that took place across the country this year, when far-right agitators demanded the removal of LGBTQ+ reading material and harassed the staff.
The study also found that the online disinformation spread by far-right groups and individuals often had the goal of fueling offline hostility and violence. These actors often encouraged anti-lockdown and anti-immigration mobilisation, also inviting people to target libraries and bookstores in attacks against the LGBTQ+ community.
Far-right driven hate & disinformation targeting LGBT+ people among others is allowed to proliferate with ease, with X (Twitter) the worst offender.
— NXF (@nxfie) November 20, 2023
Commenting on the Report’s findings, Board Director of the National LGBT Federation (NXF), Adam Long, stated: “This is a timely report into the growing online reach of far-right driven hate and extremism and should serve as a wake-up call to legislators and other stakeholders.”
“It comes as no surprise that X (Twitter) is by far the worst offender where hateful falsehoods targeting LGBTQ+ communities among others is allowed to spread with ease. Indeed, a flurry of big-name advertisers are currently in the process of fleeing the platform as they do not wish to be associated with such harmful content,” Long continued. “The proliferation of such toxic disinformation is having real-world consequences as we have seen at a number of so-called ‘protests’ where library staff and others have been abused and harassed and of course the thuggish scenes that unfolded outside our national Parliament recently.”
He concluded,”The findings of this in-depth report further underline the need for a more robust response to such far-right extremism in Ireland. Crucially, we also need to see regulatory tools like the Online Safety and Digital Services Acts fully utilised in addition to the soon to be enacted Hate Offences Bill.”
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