‘The Jews own COVID just like all of Hollywood,’ says one online poster on Telegram; campaign also frequently contains hate speech directed at Asians and women
Dec 17, 2021
PARIS (AP) — The mugshot-style photos are posted on online message boards in black and white and look a little like old-fashioned “wanted” posters.
“The Jews own COVID just like all of Hollywood,” the accompanying text says. “Wake up people.”
The post is one of many that white supremacists and far-right extremists are using to expand their reach and recruit followers on the social media platform Telegram, according to the findings of researchers who sifted through nearly half a million comments on pages — called channels on Telegram — that they categorized as far-right from January 2020 to June 2021.
The tactic has been successful: Nine of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample examined by the researchers contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them. One Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after it leaned into COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
“COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for radicalization,” said the study’s author, Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “It allows conspiracy theorists or extremists to create simple narratives, framing it as us versus them, good versus evil.”
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