In this study, we empirically examine conspiracies on the end-to-end encrypted instant messaging platform Telegram. Using the theoretical framework of dark social movements, we provide a first look at conspiratorial topics disseminated by right-wing extremists in Canada. This study examines conspiracies related to the Great Reset, Great Awakening, United Nations, technology, China, deep state, COVID-19, Islamophobia, and the New World Order. To conduct our study, we downloaded all 270,806 posts available across 21 Telegram channels selected based on their affiliation and/or association with the far-right in Canada. Using mixed-methods entailing traditional content analysis of sampled data as well as a digital investigation of the overall dataset, our findings illustrate a tendency to delegitimize the legitimate with seven conspiratorial topics and trends related to COVID-19, the interconnected nature of conspiracies, technology (5G Network, QR Codes, etc.), the Great Awakening, the deep state and political polarization, children-saving, and critical race and/or religion. We discuss how dark social movements on Telegram orbit around increasingly mainstream conspiracies that enable the far-right to coordinate activities, share similar ideas, and troll opponents.
Brazilian supporters of Bolsonaro turned protests about the recent election to violence as they overtook the federal government buildings, an event reminiscent of the events of January 6th in America’s capital. The protesters were fuelled by disinformation and conspiracy theories of a rigged election, spouted by social media, the former president himself, and American right-wing influencers such as Steve Bannon. These events, including Jan 6th, and the Canadian Convoy movement reveal how powerful conspiracy theories can be in creating social movements of self declared “patriots” determined to “save” their country, and in doing so define who are citizens of their nations.
Francesco Villi shot and killed numerous people in his condo building in Vaughan, Ontario. For years he had been in a legal battle with the condo board regarding an electrical room under his first floor condo. Villi claimed that the noise and the electrical waves coming from the room were causing him both physical and mental harm. In numerous video and text posts on social media Villi positioned what was happening to him through a religious lens, envisioning himself as “good” and on the side of God, what he understood as the 5% of the planet, while the other 95% were evil or demons.
This interview was quite personal for me. As a child OMNI was the only network that provided programming in my father’s first language. He would watch the channel a lot and chided me for not continuing my learning/use of speaking Italian. He would be proud that I was the talkative English language person in the midst of Italian. Being interviewed for this piece on Omni’s Italian Language News Broadcast was a little bit of an homage to my dad.
The Inquiry into the use of the Emergency Act during the “freedom convoys” addressed some of the issues of disinformation/conspiracy but it also provided an audience for additional disinformation to spread. Conspiracy theories and disinformation spread on social media platforms before, during, and after the convoys, and the level of distrust supporters have towards the institutions of society is not going to simply disappear. This is an issue that we as a global community need to address.
Chris Cotter, Ting Guo, and myself discussed the passing of the Queen of England and mourning in Hong Kong, then the conspiracy theories with the self titled Queen of Canada, Romana Didulo, Iranian protests and the mandatory Hijab, and finally religion and spirituality in mental health surveys. A great conversation with two very intelligent and humourous academics.
I will be a keynote speaker at the Annual Secular Arizona Summit on December 10, 2022. I will be addressing the role of conspiracy theories and Christian Nationalism on American politics. Registration is required.
Myself and three political science professors were on a panel the day after the midterms to discuss what had occurred. There were still some positions which were too early to decide, but we attempted to understand the lead up to the election and the vote itself, through a polling, foreign relations, extremist, and gender lens.
The inquiry into the use of the Emergency Act continued today with three leaders of the convoy. Today’s testimony was of interest because the founder of Canada Unity James Bauder and Tamara Lich, the name associated with the GoFundMe accounts for the convoy testified. There has been a consistent theme of victimhood from each of the presenters, a denial of extremism, and claims of vast changes of perspective. Most of the testimony states there was little to no knowledge about the MOU, or the extremist hate speech, and threats.
What is fascinating is the pulpit the Inquiry is providing for the spreading of distrust, fear, conspiracy, and disinformation in the testimony of the leaders. It would appear the opportunity they were seeking to express their beliefs has come to fruition. The responses of supporters of the convoy on Twitter and Telegram are cheering these individuals on and it is reinforcing their stance. The truth is distrust in institutions (media, government) is not going to dissipate instantly, and we, as a society, need to be aware and vigilant as this could impact our democracy.
Leaders and organizers of the freedom convoy will be providing testimony all this week at the Emergency Act Inquiry. Today was the first day of testimony with three of the leaders/organizers. Throughout their time on the stand each of them continued to blame legacy media, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, all while positioning themselves as both victims of the COVID19 mandates and as heroes who were loved by all Canadians. When asked about extremists within their ranks, the word “inclusive” was raised, while claiming they needed the support of those who were there even though their ideologies were violent or hate based. The distrust of institutions, notions of fear, and reliance on conspiracy theories were centre stage.