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

On eve of the twentieth anniversary of 9/11: Taliban takeover celebrated by extremists across the ideological spectrum

The terrible spectre of international troops leaving thousands of Afghans abandoned and stranded is reinforcing once again the urgent need for a fundamentally reformulated human rights centred approach to counter-extremism policies and practice. ISD research has followed over the last few weeks the alarming extent to which the Taliban takeover is being seen by extremists of all ilks as a symbol of victory for Islamism and the demise of liberal values around the world. Among some far-right circles, the U.S. withdrawal has been a victory against the so-called Western values, some extremists going as far as praising the Taliban “taking back” their “homeland.” Twenty years of nation-building efforts came to a halt in August, and as thousands attempted to leave the newly Taliban-controlled country, an ISIS-K claimed attack struck outside the doors of the Kabul airport, killing more than 100 people. As the country settles into a new normality, polarization may very much continue to entrench within and outside of Afghanistan’s borders as further anti-government, anti-refugee, and related ideological trends unravel.  

ISD’s Moustafa Ayad provides insights to the New York Times in this piece on "Right Wingers who Admire the Taliban," and wrote an article for the Daily Beast on the alt-right's, and Islamic "akh-right's," support for the Taliban. Additionally, days away from the 20 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our CEO, Sasha Havlicek, sat down with Sky News to speak about the legacy of the ‘War on Terror.’  Watch it here.

Gamers who hate: An inside look at extremist activity on Steam, Discord, DLive & Twitch

Leading our Future of Extremism series, we explore the online gaming world on Steam, Discord, DLive and Twitch. This four-part briefing focuses on the role gaming plays in the wider mobilisation and strategies of the far-right. Each briefing provides a platform-based snapshot of gamer community trends in the UK and abroad. From racist livestreams to open support for neo-Nazis, the report finds major gaming platforms awash with extremist activity, with Discord serving as a hub for extreme right-wing socialising and community building, and long-entrenched subgroups of extreme-right gamers identified on Steam.

Read coverage of our report in WIRED UK

Read more here

ISD's latest report provides in-depth analysis on the state of extremism and hate on TikTok

Based on a research sample of 1,030 videos that were used glorify extremism and terrorism, share advice on weapons manufacturing, and deny that events like genocides ever happened, this report finds that content espousing white supremacy, and other forms of hatred, was easily discoverable on TikTok and attracted significant engagement. 
The most-viewed video in the sample, with 2 million views, featured anti-Asian hatred linked to COVID-19, while other videos with over hundreds of thousands of views featured comments that mocked the victims and denied the existence of the Bosnian genocide and the Holocaust. Separately, the report found that extremist users regularly make use of simple but effective strategies to evade takedown efforts by TikTok.
This report seeks to start a conversation around how platforms like TikTok can improve their own practices to protect users from harm and address technical limitations, like the absence of an effective API for research, on the platform. This underscores the clear need for independent oversight of such platforms, which currently leave users and the wider public open to significant risks to their health, security and rights.

This report received a wide range of coverage from multiple outlets including The Washington Post. ISD's Ciarán O'Connor provides commentary on his findings in POLITICO Europe, USA TodayJewish Insider, PBS, Business InsiderGizmodoABC Australia and The Journal

Read more here

ISD identifies key trends in the online activity of Canadian right-wing extremists

In a collaboration with analysts at Ontario Tech University, researchers at ISD tracked the online habits of Canadian right-wing extremist (RWEs) over a period of two years. In this final report, we share the findings of the second year of the study and present key trends in the online activity of Canadian RWEs in 2020. 

Here we found that right-wing extremism is a perennial problem online in Canada, with RWEs persistently generating a sizeable reaction from the public. Our analysis demonstrates how social media enforcement efforts do not have a lasting impact on extremist activity, with the overall number of active extremist social media channels changing little between 2019 and 2020. Importantly, our analysis also reveals that extremist accounts produced more content in 2020 than in 2019 on key social media platforms, partially driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, this analysis highlights the transnational dynamics which drive Canadian RWEs, showing how these groups and individuals draw key inspiration from their U.S. neighbours, and also reveals how RWEs in Canada are important producers and amplifiers of disinformation.

Read coverage of the report in CBC News, Vice and the Globe and Mail.
Read more here

The tactics right-wing extremists use to avoid internet regulation, such as the NetzDG

In this ISD Germany study, we take a look at the online havens German right-wing extremists (RWEs) are promoting on mainstream social media platforms. In order to evade more stringent moderation and restrictions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, these extremists are linking out to alternative sites where they can push their hate undisturbed and unchallenged. In this report, available only in German, we analyse the types of platforms central to this online subculture, the popularity of audiovisual platforms and the growing importance of “fleeting” content such as Instagram stories or livestreams.

Read more here

Sounds on TikTok are reportedly fueling antivaxx conspiracies

ISD analysts found that misleading anti-vaccination soundtracks are spreading on TikTok, sometimes targeting people of colour (POC) and even being promoted by healthcare professionals. Comparable to highly shared viral messages on Whatsapp, TikTok Sounds featuring vaccine misinformation were going unchecked and being shared virally, with the origin of the sound often obscured by the own platform's features. Even if one of the popular videos is taken down, these short audio clips continue to be available on TikTok for other users to create their own content with the clip sounds. 

Report author Ciarán O'Connor spoke about ISD's research with various outlets following the release. Read coverage on his findings in NBC News, Reuters and NewsNation Now
Read more here

ISD's Sasha Havlicek on the threat of disinformation to European Democracy

ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek joined, Mark Speich, Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia and senior officials from the European Commission on a panel hosted by the European Committee of Regions (CoR) to discuss the impact of disinformation on European democracy. Havlicek lays out the nature of the threat we face from disinformation today and discusses what can be done to better safeguard our electorates and build resilience among European citizens and institutions. The panel contributed to ongoing discussion around the European Democracy Action Plan, released in December 2020, as well as the recently released CoR opinion in July 2021.

Watch the event

A plan for action: Ten years since the terrorist attacks in Norway

The University of Bergen in Norway, the Khalifa Ihler Institute and the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right brought together leading global experts in the fields of terrorism and right-wing extremism to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the horrifying attacks in Oslo and Utoya. The forum “22 July at Ten: Commemoration and Commitment” consisted in three days of international discussion, as the organisers prepared to launch the Bergen Plan of Action, a plan of action to combat the threat of terror. As one of the original members of the "Christchurch Call to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online", ISD-- represented by our Head of Research & Policy of Far-right and Hate Movements, Jacob Davey, -- was among the list of speakers contributing to the forum sessions. Read more about the event and the plan 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 a range of vital roles, such as a Managing Director working with our European team, and an Executive Director to help push our U.S. expansion. Other exciting roles include a Senior Manager to lead and develop ISD’s monitoring, evaluation and learning practices and systems, as well as a Digital Research Analyst. 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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