Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns
A man, member of the Proud Boys and other similar groups, gestures the OK sign that is now seen as a symbol of white supremacy. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 November 2020

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns
  • Provisional data suggests that “while the pandemic has reduced overall terrorist activity, in many countries there has been little impact”
  • Figures released on Thursday by the UK Home Office showed a rise in the number of people referred to its counter-extremism program for the first time in four years

LONDON: Extreme Islamist and far-right content on social media increased markedly during the COVID-19 lockdown period between April and July this year, according to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index.

“It should be no surprise … to see extremists of all stripes, including far-right and jihadist groups, opportunistically using the ongoing pandemic to advance their movements and ideologies,” Milo Comerford of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) wrote in the report, which is published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

“A range of malign actors have been using COVID-19 as a ‘wedge issue’ to promote conspiracy theories, target minority communities and outsider groups, contest government legitimacy, and call for extreme violence,” Comerford continued.

Although the report does not include hard data from the first wave of lockdowns across the world, provisional data suggests that “while the pandemic has reduced overall terrorist activity, in many countries there has been little impact.”

The report shows that administrators of pro-Daesh pages on Facebook have used a number of strategies to evade being banned or removed, including content masking, coordinated ‘raids’ and hijacking hashtags.

“Pandemic-related ISIS content tracked by ISD researchers generated over half a million views, and we have even seen the strategic use of paid ads to spread ISIS content and attempt to drown out other COVID-19-related posts,” Comerford wrote, referring to the extremist group by its English acronym.

The report also states that hundreds of extreme far-right groups saw a rise in membership during lockdown. One white-supremacist channel drew more than 6,000 new users in March alone.

“(Social media) has provided a means for extremists — including those from the far right — to challenge mainstream messaging and promulgate twisted perversions of the truth, to amplify conspiracy theories, and spread sickening and divisive images, messages and themes intended to stoke anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, and racism, as well as distrust in systems of government and governance,” UK Security Minister James Brokenshire said during a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on Thursday. “Terrorism, in whatever form, seeks to divide us and undermine our shared values.”

Figures released on Thursday by the UK Home Office showed a rise in the number of people referred to its counter-extremism program for the first time in four years.

The data showed that 3,203 of a total 6,287 referrals were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology, and that 1,487 referrals were related to Islamist radicalization, and 1,387 related to right-wing radicalization.

“The opportunities for mobilization represented by COVID-19 has helped catalyze these increasingly disparate and diverse violent extremism challenges,” Comerford wrote.

“The trends indicated by the Global Terrorism Index, and confirmed by extremist mobilization during COVID-19, show the need to understand the rapidly changing manifestations and organizing principles of violent extremism.”


Amazon Prime show agrees to changes after India Hindu outcry

Amazon Prime show agrees to changes after India Hindu outcry
Updated 21 January 2021

Amazon Prime show agrees to changes after India Hindu outcry

Amazon Prime show agrees to changes after India Hindu outcry
  • The Amazon Prime drama “Tandav” drew criticism from members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party
  • Several BJP politicians called for the show to be banned

MUMBAI: The cast and crew of a popular streaming series starring Bollywood megastar Saif Ali Khan have agreed to “implement changes” to the show after ruling party politicians accused it of insulting Hindu gods.
The Amazon Prime drama “Tandav” — loosely compared to the US series “House of Cards” — drew criticism from members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party after its Friday release.
Several BJP politicians called for the show to be banned, saying it was “deliberately mocking Hindu gods” and disrespecting religious sentiments.
One of the criticized scenes depicts a university play in which Hindu deity Shiva talks about “azaadi” (freedom), a rallying cry from 2019’s anti-government protests across the country.
“The cast and crew of Tandav have made the decision to implement changes to the web series to address the concerns raised,” director Ali Abbas Zafar wrote in a post on Twitter late Tuesday.
The cast and crew also apologized on Monday, with Zafar saying that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had told the team it had received “a large number of grievances and petitions... with serious concerns and apprehensions” over the series.
“’Tandav’ is a work of fiction and any resemblance to acts and persons and events is purely coincidental,” he said Monday.
The petitioners include Ram Kadam, a BJP lawmaker in Mumbai, who said he was “fighting for Hindu pride and trying to ensure that nobody dare to mock our Hindu Gods.”
Leading streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney’s Hotstar, have expanded their presence in the country of 1.3 billion, including by commissioning local content.
The streaming TV services are not subject to the country’s notoriously fussy censor boards, which regularly cut scenes.
But there have been growing calls, particularly from BJP politicians, for the shows to be subject to the same scrutiny.
The most recent controversy involved the BBC’s TV version of Vikram Seth’s epic bestselling novel, “A Suitable Boy,” which is streaming on Netflix, over a scene where a Hindu girl kisses a Muslim boy in front of a temple.
A BJP politician in November filed a police complaint saying the show had hurt Hindus’ religious sentiments.