Extremist groups spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have moved away from popular social media platforms to other sites to sow discord and disperse their radical ideologies. Extremists are increasingly favoring alternatives such as Google Drive and Internet Archive over major social media platforms in order to avoid detection and takedowns of their violent propaganda and misinformation campaigns. This shift in tactics calls into question the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’s (GIFCT) efficacy, which was created by the tech industry to prevent extremists from misusing sites across the Internet.
On Sunday, the New York Times highlighted increased efforts by white supremacist extremist groups to leverage the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to advance their radical agendas and attract new members. Far-right extremist groups are increasingly mobilizing their appeals to potential supporters online that include racist sentiments, anti-Semitic tropes, and misinformation with claims that COVID-19 is a Jewish-run conspiracy and, alternatively, as being spread by nonwhite immigrants.
Tech & Terrorism: Online Extremists Exploit Coronavirus Pandemic To Incite Violence & Encourage Terrorism
As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic, far-right and Islamic extremist groups are plotting to exploit the health crisis to advance their radical agendas. Last week, FBI agents thwarted a car bomb attack on a hospital in Missouri by 36-year-old neo-Nazi Timothy Wilson, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified a clipping from an ISIS newsletter urging supporters to conduct attacks against “overburdened health care systems in various Western countries.” The March 19 issue of the ISIS magazine Al-Naba, after originally encouraging members to stay away from areas impacted by COVID-19, urged followers to leverage the pandemic to free prisoners that have been arrested by Western forces and take advantage of vulnerable health care systems.
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) reports weekly on the methods used by extremists to exploit the Internet and social media platforms to recruit followers and incite violence. This week, white supremacist and neo-Nazi accelerationist Telegram channels continued calling for the exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, British neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD) launched a Telegram channel challenging a membership ban that the British government implemented last month. Also, chan imageboard and Telegram chat users praise Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant following his guilty plea. ISIS’s Amaq News Agency released a video of one of the Kabul Gurdwara attackers on Telegram and YouTube. Finally, the pro-ISIS Al-Qitaal Media Center released the second version of the online magazine “Voice of Hind” in an attempt to appeal to Muslims in India.