Welcome to ISD Insights, a digest of ISD's latest research and projects on disinformation, extremism and polarisation around the world
In addition to the below publications, our Digital Analysis Unit continues to monitor and track disinformation and weaponised hate across the US as it has done in the lead up to the recent US elections. We combine large scale data analysis across mainstream social media with OSINT and ethnographic research across closed Facebook groups, 4chan, 8kun, Telegram, Gab, Minds, VK, MeWe, and Parler (until recently), along with additional extremist forums and websites. 

We’ve produced daily briefings for partners on mobilisation to violence and voter fraud campaigning, including analysing the online activity that preceded the terrible scenes we all witnessed at the US Capitol. Although these briefings are not made public in order to avoid driving further attention and traffic to these activities, we are happy to share these with trusted partners upon request.

New report confirms how coordinated and divisive political content on Facebook targeted US audiences

In an effort to analyse and better understand coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook, ISD recently investigated a series of Facebook groups and pages exhibiting suspicious and potentially coordinated activity promoting divisive political content, including QAnon conspiracy content and pro-Trump messaging. Our findings suggest the existence of a sophisticated information operation on Facebook that effectively “launders” divisive content to mostly US-based politically interested audiences. The politically partisan nature of these efforts suggests there was an effort to further polarise existing partisan communities on Facebook ahead of the US election in November 2020.

Download our report at the link below.

Read the report

A deeper look at how QAnon's presence grew on Facebook (and what can be done)

In a new report written in collaboration with the nonpartisan news-rating organisation NewsGuard, ISD analyses QAnon-related contents on Facebook during a period of increased activity, just before the platform implemented moderation of public contents spreading the conspiracy theory. Combining quantitative and qualitative analysis, this report looks at key trends in discussions around QAnon, prominent accounts in that discussion, and domains – particularly news websites – that were frequently shared alongside QAnon contents on Facebook. This report also recommends some steps to be taken by technology companies, governments and the media when seeking to counter the spread of problematic conspiracy theories like QAnon on social media.

Read exclusive coverage at the New York Times, the Financial Times, Die Welt, Deutschland Funk, Turi2, and La Repubblica.

Read the report

Read how terrorist organisations have exploited COVID-19

ISD's Milo Comerford wrote an expert paper for the 2020 Global Terrorism Index outlining ISD’s research throughout the year on how terrorist organisations have responded to the COVID-19, joining a virtual panel for the report’s launch alongside the Institute for Economics and Peace and Geneva Centre for Security Policy. 

The paper received widespread media coverage, including from ITV, Arab News, Euractiv (DE), Metro and The Sun.

Read the paper

ISD launches Digital Policy Lab, helping governments chart the path forward on platform governance and policy

Seed funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Digital Policy Lab (DPL) is a new inter-governmental working group focused on charting the regulatory and policy path forward to prevent and counter disinformation, hate speech, extremism and terrorism online. It is comprised of a core group of senior representatives of relevant ministries and regulators from key liberal democratic countries (starting with EU and Five Eyes countries) and is intended to foster inter-governmental exchange, provide policy makers with access to sector-leading expertise and research, and build an international community of policy practice around key regulatory challenges in the digital policy space. Two convenings of the DPL were held in November and December of 2020, bringing officials from eleven countries and the EU together to develop frameworks for transparency in digital regulation and to review specific proposed legislation such as the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) and European Democracy Action Plan(EDAP), as well as country-level legislation such as the upcoming UK Online Harms bill.

ISD briefing papers focusing on these areas of digital policy are available upon request.

Read more

New research explores how far-right narratives cross the Atlantic

As part of a partnership with MediaCloud, launched at MIT, this briefing explores the hyperlink networks between mainstream national and far-right online media ecosystems in the US, France and Germany, seeking to determine whether and how far-right narratives travel across the Atlantic. It tests the mainstreaming hypothesis, that far-right ideas travel from far-right alternative media to mainstream media, and the transnationalisation hypothesis, that far-right ideas spread between national media ecosystems. Our findings suggest ideas may be reaching the mainstream through such interactions, but provide limited support for the hypothesis that article hyperlinks in far-right media alone are an important vector for the transnationalisation of far-right ideas.

Download the briefing at the link below.

Read the briefing

Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 provoke mobilisation of far-left and far-right in Australia

The first in a series of ISD briefings in partnership with Victoria University and produced by the Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies (CRIS), this report analyses the Australian far-right and far-left’s interactions on Facebook in the first half of 2020. It shows that COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter (BLM) were key rallying points for both the far-right and far-left on Facebook, with radically opposed interpretation of these events. In particular, BLM provided extensive opportunities for the far-right to mobilise against the far-left and vice versa.

Read an exclusive op-ed by Mario Peucker and Jacob Davey at ABC (Australia).

Read the report

ISD Germany report tracks how Germany-based extremists amplified their reach with COVID-19

In this report, ISD analysed the networks and narratives of German-speaking right-wing extremist, left-wing extremist and Islamist extremist actors on mainstream and alternative social media platforms and extremist websites in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report found that extremists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have succeeded in increasing their reach following the introduction of lockdown measures in their respective countries. Right-wing extremists have disproportionately increased their following in this effort; however, each group has used the crisis in different ways. We found that right-wing extremists have capitalised on the crisis to mobilise against minorities and the government, left-wing extremists have placed the pandemic in an economic and anti-capitalist context, and Islamist extremists have interpreted it along religious lines.

Read exclusive coverage of our research at GNET Research
Zur Studie (Deutsch)
Read the report (English)

ISD launches new curriculum for schools and youth groups to tackle online harms

ISD has just launched a brand-new curriculum for Be Internet Citizens (BIC), a program led by Google for both schools and youth groups, reflecting the lived experiences and challenges young people face online. The resources are free to download and include a series of action-oriented sessions, unpacking key topics such as how to identify mis- and disinformation, exploring fact versus opinion, the benefits and pitfalls of a ‘personalised web’, understanding unconscious bias, analysing 'us vs them' narratives, responding effectively to hate speech, and creating inspiring digital content to champion causes, promote positive messages and support peers.

Download the toolkit at the link below.

Download the toolkit
  • New York Times, "QAnon is still spreading on Facebook, despite a ban." - Exclusive coverage of ISD's reporting with NewsGuard on QAnon and Facebook
  • Slate, "Keep Calm and QAnon" - Amarnath Amarasingam writes on how pro-Trump conspiracy theories may have actually discouraged postelection violence
  • BBC News, "Kyle Rittenhouse: YouTube struggles with hero worship" - Chloe Colliver discusses responses by Facebook and Twitter to supporters of Kyle Rittenhouse
  • GNET Research, "Digital Extremism in German-Speaking Countries During the COVID-19 Crisis" - Op-ed by ISD's Jakob Guhl covering research on the COVID-19 crisis in Germany
  • Financial Times, "‘Rudderless’ QAnon may reinvent itself after US election, warn experts" - Exclusive coverage of ISD's report with NewsGuard on QAnon and Facebook 
  • Wired, "How France is confronting its big anti-vaxx problem" - Coverage of ISD's reporting on anti-vaccine views featuring prominently in France’s most popular Covid-related posts on Facebook and Twitter.
  • NBC News, "Accused hate groups receive pandemic aid" - Further coverage of ISD research with the Global Disinformation Index that analyzed how hate groups fundraise and collect payments online.
  • Brookings, "How Biden can take the high road on misinformation" - Further coverage of ISD's research with Politico on how "a small number of conservative users routinely outpace their liberal rivals"
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "Gamifying Extremism: Refighting (And Rewriting) The Balkan Wars As A Video Game" - ISD's Jacob Davey discusses the gamification of terror online.
  • Radio Canada International, "New research points to growth of right-wing extremism in Atlantic Canada" - Further coverage of ISD's research on Canadian far right extremist channels online.
  • Politico, "Conspiracy theories run wild on Amazon" - Commentary by Ciaran O'Connor on conspiracy theories allowed to flourish on Amazon.
  • Forbes (Austria), "Auf Der Suche Nach Extremen" - Extensive profile of Julia Ebner and her work infiltrating far right cells in Europe. Julia also took part in Forbes DACH's U30 DACH Meetup, where you can watch her interview in full
  • Der Standard (Austria): "Angriff aufs Kapitol: Ein Sturm entsteht nicht im Vakuum" - The violent storm on Capitol Hill was the result of a long and open disinformation campaign, explain ISD's Huberta von Voss-Wittig and Jakob Guhl explain in the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard.

Podcast: Aspen Initiative UK - The future of disinformation

ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek recently participated in the Aspen Initiative UK's webinar, "The Future of Disinformation" along with Arisha Michelle Hatch (Vice President and Chief of Campaigns at Color Of Change), Peter Pomerantsev (Senior Fellow at the SNF Agora Institute), and Ethan Zuckerman (Director of the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure), moderated by Ed Williams (President and CEO of Edelman EMEA). The conversation is now available as a podcast, which can be downloaded through most podcast providers or at the link below:

Listen to the podcast

Webinar: Trust in Journalism - Who regulates free speech?

ISD CEO Sasha Havlicek participated in Impress’ Trust in Journalism Conference 2020 event on 25 November. The panel explored the regulation of free speech, focusing in particular on the potential impact it may have on public interest journalism. The panelists also discussed how friction between big tech and journalism is playing out as well as how this could affect the new generation of independent publishers.

Watch the event

Webinar: Lessons Learnt and ‘New Normals’ in a Post-COVID World

Chloe Colliver, Head of ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, participated in an event hosted by LSE, entitled “One Year On: Lessons Learnt and ‘New Normals’ in a Post-COVID World”. The webinar explored democracy and disinformation, discussing policy tools and regulations both platforms and governments can adopt, as well as the role public interest media can play in competing with disinformation and how “The Good Web” initiative may better empower citizens online.

Watch the webinar at the link below.

Watch the event

Webinar: WebRoots Democracy Festival - The Internet and Islamophobia

ISD's Zahed Amanullah joined a panel discussion hosted by WebRoots Democracy, a UK-based think tank, as part of the WebRoots Democracy Festival, to speak about online Islamophobic abuse perpetuated by foreign disinformation actors as well as domestic citizens and potential solutions which governments, civil society, and tech companies can take to reduce the problem. Zahed discussed aspects of ISD's work with Muslim organisations working on the 2020 US elections. Other panelists included Faima Bakar (Metro), Miqdaad Versi (Muslim Council of Britain), and Fahmida Rahman (WebRoots Democracy). 

Watch the webinar at the link below.

Watch the event

Help ISD safeguard democracy

As an independent, non-profit organisation, our work is reliant on grants and donations from people like you. We have been committed to the fight against hate, extremism, polarisation and disinformation for nearly 15 years, but face new threats and challenges in the wake of COVID-19.

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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