Covid-19 Protesters and the Far Right on Telegram: Co-Conspirators or Accidental Bedfellows?

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the creation of a new protest movement, positioned against government lockdowns, mandatory vaccines, and related measures. Efforts to control misinformation by digital platforms resulted in take downs of key accounts and posts. This led some of these protest groups to migrate to platforms with less stringent content moderation policies, such as Telegram. Telegram has also been one of the destinations of the far right, whose deplatforming from mainstream platforms began a few years ago. Given the co-existence of these two movements on Telegram, the article examines their connections. Empirically, the article focused on Irish Telegram groups and channels, identifying relevant protest movements and collecting their posts. Using computational social science methods, we examine whether far-right terms and discourses are present and how this varies across different clusters of Telegram Covid-19 protest groups. In addition, we examine which actors are posting far-right content and what kind of roles they play in the network of Telegram groups. The findings indicate the presence of far-right discourses among the COVID-19 groups. However, the existence of these groups was not solely driven by the extreme right, and the incidence of far-right discourses was not equal across all COVID-19 protest groups. We interpret these findings under the prism of the mediation opportunity structure: while the far right appears to have taken advantage of the network opportunity structure afforded by deplatforming and the migration to Telegram, it did not succeed in diffusing its ideas widely among the COVID-19 protest groups in the Irish Telegram.

Tags: Covid-19, Telegram