Authorities in New Zealand identified more than 300 online accounts controlled by extremists
Affected Countries: new-zealand;
A Government-commissioned study has identified more than 300 online accounts run by extremists in New Zealand, most promoting far-right ideology and conspiracy theories.
The report, published by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue earlier this month, captured a “snapshot” of online extremism in New Zealand.
The Department of Internal Affairs commissioned the report and researchers from the institute spoke at a hui on counter-terrorism, called He Whenua Taurikura, held at the Christchurch Town Hall on Tuesday.
Of the 315 extremist accounts identified throughout most of 2020, 170 of these were far-right, 134 were conspiracy theorists with “significant overlap” with the far-right, 25 were far-left, and seven were Islamist extremists.
“The internet can lift extremists out of New Zealand’s own domestic political and social context, and make them angry, aggrieved and mobilised about things that are happening across the other side of the world,” the report said.
The accounts had a total audience of more than 750,000 subscribers, or about 2700 per account, and were responsible for making more than 600,000 posts.
These posts were engaged with more than 5 million times, and created discussion or debate 1.6 million times. The researchers classified more than 7500 posts, or 1.24 per cent, as “aggressive or a call to action”.
“The online platforms used by extremists are busy, often noisy places, where even radical proselytising can go entirely unseen and unheeded,” the report said.
“That is not true in the case of New Zealand … extremists’ posts find an audience, and provoke a reaction.”
The majority of accounts were on Twitter, 172, followed by Facebook, at 76. Smaller, fringe social media platforms that promote themselves as havens for libertarianism – Gab and Parler – held more than 40 accounts.
“New Zealand’s extremists do not seem to have been either pushed off mainstream spaces, or left voluntarily … Mainstream platforms still host the majority of extremist activity, and are still the only way for extremists to reach significant numbers of people.”
The rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a fragmented far-right conspiracy movement, has also taken hold among corners of New Zealand social media users.
“Notably, QAnon activity in New Zealand is not confined to the internet, with references to the conspiracy theory being regularly spotted at anti-lockdown rallies,” the report said.
“Such rallies have attracted not only opponents of government lockdowns but also people calling for a ban of the 1080 poison and referencing QAnon-related conspiracy theories about child trafficking.
“Conspiracies around Covid-19 merging with discredited theories around 5G even resulted in criminal activities in New Zealand, including at least 14 arson attacks on 5G infrastructure in a span of six weeks.”
Politics were a key issue, due to elections in both New Zealand and the United States, and extremists also took an interest in public health due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Major spikes in extremist discussion accompanied national lockdowns in New Zealand.”