Report Open Access

Online far right extremist and conspiratorial narratives during the COVID-19 pandemic

Waldek, Lise; Droogan, Julian; Ballsun-Stanton, Brian

The pandemic caused by the novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presents a national and global crisis. Government public health responses have impacted on the social and behavioural norms that shape daily interactions in Australia. The pandemic has been accompanied by the global spread of false and misleading information including conspiratorial narratives, resulting in an online environment described as an ‘infodemic’. The situation has presented far right extremists with a unique opportunity to capitalise on societal anxieties and align their narratives with wider public discourse to recruit and mobilise.


To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on Australian far right extremists, this report addressed three key questions.

  • The creeping threat posed by far right extremist narratives in online Australian sentiment across a two-year time period from 8 January 2019 to 8 January 2021.
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic and public health responses have been appropriated by far right extremists in Australia for purposes  of recruitment, engagement, and mobilisation.
  • The impact and effectiveness of social media moderation strategies on the presence and growth of far right extremists and conspiratorial narratives in the online environment.

The report draws on two data sets. The creeping threat posed by far right extremist and conspiratorial narratives on mainstream public sentiment was explored using YouTube and Twitter data. In total, 21 YouTube channels were selected, generating 13+ million comments, and 1% of Australian tweets and retweets were collected generating 5.5+ million tweets. To explore how far right extremists have appropriated COVID-19 online, screenshots from Telegram and Instagram channels were collected from groups, individuals, and personalities associated with far right extremist and militant anti-lockdown movements.

Acknowledgements: We would particularly like to acknowledge the advice and assistance of Dr. Peter Petocz, our statistician. His advice has allowed us to perform statistical analysis of our quantitative data with assurance. All errors are our own. We would also like to acknowledge Mr. Tristan Murallitharan and Ms. JV for their invaluable support in the case study research. Conflicts of Interest: This research was entirely funded by The New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice, Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program. The researchers have been in contact with and collaborated with staff at companies referenced in this report for other projects but have not received any considerations for this work, financial or non-financial.
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