As the United Kingdom (UK) starts to ramp up for elections this year, the discourse across unmoderated social media highlights the growing role racism, hate speech, disinformation and conspiracies are playing in traditional policy debates. This is particularly evident on hot button topics such as healthcare, inflation, asylum/immigration, and climate change, where facts become entangled with conspiracy theories and feed growing extremist ideologies in the country.
Against this backdrop, certain parties and personalities are leaning into these narratives, further influencing how voters perceive these core issues. And while it can be easy to dismiss far-right narratives as the views of a small minority, recent elections throughout Europe where nationalist and far-right movements are on the rise, provide evidence to the contrary. From the success of Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam Freedom Party in the Netherlands to Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, it is clear that the far right and ultra nationalist platforms that were once outcasts following World War II are again gaining legitimacy and influence.
The UK is no exception, as evidenced by the growing support for Nigel Farage’s Reform Party. The right-wing populist party is currently outpolling the Liberal Democrats at around 10 per cent nationally, doubling from five per cent a year ago. This surge is largely attributable to the anti-immigration drivers behind the Brexit vote, and the subsequent failure of the Tories to crack down on immigration. Right now, it is estimated the issue will cost the Tories up to 35 seats in the election, handing Labour the majority.
Indeed, the growing popularity of far-right narratives in the UK is shaping political discourse. Moderate candidates increasingly feel compelled to adapt their positions to remain relevant to their constituents with some Labour and Tory MPs openly adopting far-right platforms. In other countries we have seen this trend evolve to the policy making space, where some legislators create immigration policy, ban books or restrict access to trans-youth-health based on far-right narratives taken chapter and verse from unmoderated social media. In short, some politicians are validating hate and division within society while depriving minority groups of basic human rights.
Against this backdrop, Pyrra is monitoring the unmoderated social ecosystem to track how healthcare, immigration, economic, and environmental platforms are being driven by conspiracy, disinformation and far-right agendas. Below are the top issues.
Anti-Immigration sentiment is the election driver for 2024 and it finds a strong support base amongst unmoderated social users who are unsatisfied with the Tories post-Brexit action in these areas.
A base that some conservative MPs have happily played to:
Richard Tice, leader of the Reform party, frequently and publicly blames the Tories for “mass immigration,” recently stating that: “the immigration figures are a complete betrayal of everyone who voted Conservative, who voted for Brexit” and,
Suella Braverman, former Tory Home Secretary, has repeatedly attacked Sunak and the Tories“for failing the British people,” and was recently ousted for making divisive comments about pro-Palestine protests.
Of greater concern however, is how the immigration debate is being twisted into a highly racist narrative about the “browning of England” as one former London mayoral candidate wrote. Across unmoderated social media, this narrative has found legs amongst Great Replacement believers, who suggest that Prime Minister Sunak is part of a plot to replace white Brits. Comments from prominent MPs such as Suella Braverman who describe immigrants as “mostly young men, many with values and social mores at odds with our own” only further add fuel to the fire.
The influence of far-right extremist ideologies on these issues also add anti-semitic rhetoric to the fray with unmoderated social users quick to link the immigration issue to the Great Reset.
Antisemitism in the UK has significantly increased since the Israel-Hamas war began late last year, and the powerful combination of this, with a PM of Kenyan descent, existing anti-immigration sentiment, prevalence of the Great Replacement narrative, and politicians who are willing to lean into these extreme views, does not bode well for a civil national election.
Inflation and the rising cost of living are top of mind for voters with food prices rising by 17.3 percent in June, housing and energy inflation hitting 12 percent and mortgage rates hitting their highest level since 2008 in July.
Many blame Brexit for the worsening economic situation - which is not necessarily without base - but are quick to point the finger at the 1% for pushing for the exit from the EU to fill their own coffers.
Amongst unmoderated social users, these issues only serve to “prove” conspiracies such as the Great Reset.
Indeed, the announcement by the Bank of England and the Treasury around the ‘digital pound’ (central bank digital currencies - CBDC), quickly fell victim to this conspiracy narrative, especially once Farage began openly criticizing the idea:
“I cannot think of a more dangerous initiative than this… If we're not careful, we head towards a Chinese-style social credit system, where unless you go along with the views of the day, you become a non-person."
Across unmoderated social, users claim thatCBDCs are a tool designed by global elites and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to destroy freedom. In the last month, the term “cashless society,” spoken by Farage, was used 240 times on alt-social.
The NHS consistently ranks as one of the top concerns for voters in the upcoming election according to Ipsos polling. Across the UK, rumours of privatization have circulated for many years - a theory that has been pushed by numerous establishment figures.
Across unmoderated social, the rumour takes further shape, with some claiming that the Tories have been deliberately underfunding the NHS, so poor outcomes can provide justification for them to privatize it and transform it into the American model of healthcare. Hashtags like #ToryDictatorship and #ToryFascists are often used:
Highly prevalent Covid and vaccine mis/disinformation across this ecosystem further inflame the notion that the government is up to something sinister with the NHS. Indeed, almost a quarter of the UK population believes Covid was a hoax.
Others believe the vaccine was part of the larger Great Replacement and Great Reset conspiracies and accusations from MPs such as Andrew Bridgen - who likened the vaccine to the Holocaust only further serve to prove the point.
Climate change is the final election hot topic that is heavily trending across unmoderated social, where users believe the UK’s current green initiatives are cover for “big brother” type control and surveillance.
The heavily criticized ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) in London was viewed as one of the government attempts to control and restrict UK citizens, with many taking to the streets in protest. Anti-Ulez placards read: “stop the toxic air lie” and portrayed a cardboard coffin with “democracy” written across it.
In a similar vein, the ‘15-minute city’ concept was also portrayed by many as a government attempt to surveil people and restrict freedoms. Although designed to provide residents convenient access to amenities within a short distance, the urban planning concept has enraged the far-right as being an attack on freedoms. At a protest, Piers Corbyn (brother of former Labour party leader) climbed into an anti-traffic plant pot and shouted “do not comply!” Also, in the House of Commons, a Tory MP called it an “international socialist concept” that would “take away our personal freedom.”
This naturally plays well with unmoderated social narratives around the Great Reset - there have been over 5,000 posts on alt-social about 15-minute cities in the past year, which surged during international events, like the Hawaii wildfires and derailment of a train in Ohio. These events served as catalysts for the far-right, who claimed these were planned events to forcibly relocate people into 15-minute cities. A particularly alarming case involved Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, reporting online attacks targeting one of the city planners for the city's promotion of the concept. As similar rhetoric emerges in the UK, it is crucial to recognize the potential impact of online harms on public discourse.
We expect these issues to become increasingly inflamed across British society as the nation edges towards parliamentary elections later this year. With an growing number of politicians willing to play to far-right groups, stoke racist and anti-semitic views, and (whether wittingly or unwittingly) ‘confirm’ the conspiracy narratives many believe to already to be true, it is likely that protests and racially motivated physical assault will be on the rise.
Unmoderated social media plays a significant role in the spread and perpetuation of hate speech and conspiracy theories and has been used by some to plan attacks in the past. If you are not yet monitoring sentiment across this ecosystem, you are operating partially in the dark.
Pyrra’s goal is to make the internet and the world safer by identifying and tracking the users pushing dangerous narratives across the unmoderated corners of the internet where hate and extremism fester. Visit pyrratech.com to learn how we may be able to help you.
10https://www.isdglobal.org/explainers/the-great-reset/The core conspiratorial theme is that Schwab and the WEF are acting as a Machiavellian hidden hand, orchestrating COVID-19 lockdowns and other public health measures in order to achieve their own sinister goals. These purported goals differ somewhat in various versions of the conspiracy theory. In some cases it’s about bringing about economic collapse, in others about establishing Marxist or socialist authoritarian rule, and at times it is linked to a vision of a corporate capitalist surveillance dystopia.
11 D. Clark. “Inflation rate for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the United Kingdom from January 1989 to October 2023.” Statista. Nov, 2023.