The Covid-19 outbreak has seen a dramatic rise in incitements of violence, hate speech and the recycling of old conspiracy theories directed particularly at the Jewish and Chinese communities, a new report into online extremism has shown.
Moonshot - a technology company that monitors and disrupts violent extremism online – looked at the use of hashtags on Twitter and Instagram during the coronavirus pandemic and then compared it with data from the past five years.
The results of an analysis of more than 600 million tweets showed that nearly 200,000 contained hate speech or conspiracy theories.
In a report published by the New Statesman Moonshot identified a “clear” spike in antisemitic hashtags used in relation to the outbreak of Covid 19.
These included #SorosVirus, #IsraelVirus and #NWOVirus, and were typically linked to longstanding racist tropes about Jewish-led world governments and the virus being used to kill off portions of the population.
“The ideological underpinnings of these worldviews are often explicitly anti-government and sometimes antisemitic in their belief that the world is controlled by a covert network of elites who work against the population’s interest,” the report concludes.
“Fears related to the Covid-19 epidemic have not only brought fringe 5G conspiracies to a broader audience, but along with them comes the additional risk of exposing users to a broader network of problematic conspiracy theories about science, medicine and systems of governance.”
Moonshot said it recorded a 300 per cent increase in the use of “hashtags that support or encourage violence against China and Chinese people” in a single week in March.
These incitements to violence typically stemmed from posts which contained references to anti-Chinese conspiracy theories.
The study also found that conspiracy theories surrounding the rollout of 5G mobile networks increased by 366 per cent in the first three months of 2020 with the use of Twitter hashtags.