Welcome to ISD Insights, a digest of ISD's latest research and projects on disinformation, extremism and polarisation around the world

ISD’s online manipulation detection technology wins the U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue is proud to announce that our Beam technology, created in partnership with CASM, has been awarded the highly sought after U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge. Beam was designed to detect online manipulation and disinformation, and to provide the tools for countries, NGOs, and civil society members collect and understand these threats for themselves. Beam is a multilingual, multiplatform system and has been tested and deployed across 10 countries and eight languages over the last six years. During the 2020 US Presidential Elections, ISD used Beam to detect covert propaganda promoting Chinese government conspiracy theories, assess QAnon’s presence on social media and track disinformation undermining trust in the election outcome. Carl Miller of CASM explains more about the technology here.

ISD policy paper calls for human rights-centred prevention policy

ISD’s new policy paper "Mainstreamed Extremism and the Future of Prevention" reflects the dramatic transformations in the extremist landscape over the last two decades and argues for radical changes to how governments and societies prevent extremism. The paper puts forward a human rights-centred approach to prevention, arguing that countering extremism must go beyond preventing violence and focus instead on combating ideologies and behaviours that seek to undermine universal rights.

We explain the need for prevention strategies that span domestic and foreign policy, and break down silos between areas of government from social cohesion to digital regulation. Only then can we be sure that prevention programmes will deal with the inter-connected nature of extremist threats. This paper is part of ISD’s 'Future of Extremism' series, considering the policy strategies required to counter the next generation of extremist threats.
Read more here
Extremists are flourishing behind well-built websites thanks to open source tech

As alt-tech social media such as Gab and Odysee continues to attract far-right users, extremists are seeking open-source web tools and services to build their websites. Our analysis shows that most of these alt-sites are built using mainstream tools and services such as Wordpress and vBulletin. Extremists are able to legitimise their online presence using well-built pages, and the open-source nature of the tools makes them extremely difficult to remove.

These sites not only present a challenge to the principles of free speech, but also challenge the volunteers that publish their tools on these site-building pages for use by anyone on the internet.

Read more here
ISD and GDI trace the financial lifelines of German far-right groups ahead of federal elections

Over a dozen German far-right groups and actors were found to use well-known credit cards and other online payment platforms as a means to fund their activities, according to our most recent study. We identified 17 known far-right groups and actors using credit card services including American Express, MasterCard, and Visa, as well as platforms such as PayPal, Square, and Stripe. While more than half of these online funding services have Terms of Service that should prohibit their use in these cases, the services were openly advertised on far-right websites.

The study, available in German and English, spotlights how these online funding channels can provide a financial lifeline to well-known German extremist groups and actors, many of which escalated their activities leading up to the country’s federal elections in September 2021. 

Read coverage in WAZ and Der Standard.

Read more here
ISD exposes gendered disinformation trends in German federal elections
This report from ISD Germany examines the spread of false messages and harassment on Facebook and Telegram directed against the three leading candidates of CDU/CSU, SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Green Party) in the lead up to the federal elections. Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock was exposed to more hostility and disinformation campaigns than her fellow male counterparts, Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU). Often associated with conspiracy myths, and sometimes labelled a "danger to Germany," Baerbock’s competence was questioned twice as often on Facebook as Laschet’s, and almost four times as often as Scholz’s. Additionally, on Telegram, Baerbock was mentioned in the context of the “Great Reset” conspiracy myth 10 times more often than Scholz, and four times more often than Laschet.

Read coverage in POLITICOPOLITICO Europe, Market Research Telecast, Helsingin Sangomat, SPIEGEL, HeiseDie Zeit, Schweriner Volkszeitung, and Der Standard
Read more here

The state of research on German far-right online activity in historical context

As part of the project "Countering Radicalization in Right-Wing Extremist Online Subcultures,” funded by the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV), ISD examines the history of right-wing extremist internet use in Germany. From the beginning, we show how right-wing extremists in Germany have always taken advantage of the internet for political gain. Today, the extreme right is reacting to increased regulation by hijacking and building alternative social media platforms. The report also uses expert interviews to illuminate key research gaps: alt-tech platforms, moderation practices, and the hybridised threat presented by COVID-19 conspiracy movements and right-wing extremists.

Read more at Coda Story and Der Standard.

ISD’s previous research on the German far-right includes exploration of antisemitism during COVID-19, far-right online ecosystems, and coordinated hate campaigns.
Read more here

Australia’s conspiracy-ridden anti-lockdown movement raises risk of violence

In the wake of significant anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne and Sydney, ISD’s Elise Thomas examined the Australia-based conspiracy community and their growing use of social media channels. This fragmented movement contains concerning potential for violence. Users are being drawn to elements including as QAnon and Sovereign Citizen movements, New Age health tropes and fringe anti-Chinese Communist Party or religiously inspired conspiracy theories.

Most of these channels begin by providing communications for the logistics of protests, but conversations evolve over a short period of time to more extremist messaging. This content is often derived from other geographical contexts, primarily the U.S. As widespread public health restrictions continue, so too will the upwards trajectory of the anti-lockdown movement.

Elise speaks further on this topic and the recurring anti-lockdown protests in Australia with multiple media outlets including ABC NewsRadio, SBS's The Feed, The Guardian, Crikey, once more on another related story with The Guardian, and more. 

Read more here

ISD addresses launch of Extremism + Gaming Research Network

ISD's commitment to evidencing extremist mobilisation on gaming platforms is well evidenced by our recent work on how extremists evade mainstream restrictions on gaming platforms, as well as studies of extremism on gaming platforms including Steam, Discord and DLive. We’ve joined forces with 9 counter-extremism organisations to uncover the depths of gaming exploitation by violent extremists around the world at the newly launched Extremism and Gaming Research Network (EGRN). ISD’s Milo Comerford spoke at the launch of the Network this month, which publicly established the research agenda in front of 200 participants.
Hear the recording here

Join our team to counter hate, extremism and disinformation globally 

ISD has grown across all of our areas of work in the last year, with new team members joining us in over 14 countries globally. That growth is set to continue thanks to our widening work in the U.S. and abroad. 

We are currently looking for exceptional people to take on vital roles, such as a Managing Director working with our European team, and a Finance and Administration Project Coordinator in Jordan. We will also soon begin accepting internship applications! If you would like to know more about upcoming opportunities or submit a speculative application, please visit our new careers portal below. 

New ISD vacancies

Help ISD safeguard democracy

We have been committed to the fight against hate, extremism, polarisation and disinformation for nearly 15 years and it's all thanks to support from people like you. As an independent, non-profit organisation, our work is reliant on grants and donations to stay on the forefront of analysing and responding to extremism in all its forms. 

By donating to ISD, your contribution will ensure we can continue to analyse, advise, and programmatically act to educate and build resilience across communities in order to create stronger, more cohesive societies. Join us, please, by donating at the link below.

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Copyright © Institute for Strategic Dialogue (2021). Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales with company registration number 06581421 and registered charity number 1141069. Registered office address: PO Box 75769, London, SW1P 9ER, United Kingdom. All rights reserved. 

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