Research published today by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that social media platforms are largely failing to enforce their own community guidelines and terms of service.
It is the culmination of a year of work carried out by analysts Aoife Gallagher, Ciarán O’Connor and Francesca Visser. More than 13 million posts were analysed across 12 platforms from 2020 to 2023 as part of the study.
This included popular sites like Facebook, X, Instagram and TikTok, as well as alternative platforms including Gettr, Gab and Rumble.
Uisce Faoi Thalamh: An Investigation into the Online Mis-and Disinformation Ecosystem in Ireland cites comments made by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who in May said the far-right is not rising in Ireland, bucking the trend seen across Europe.
The research found that false information and conspiracy theories being spread online can lead to direct, real-life action, including acts of violence.
It said anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic were fuelled by misinformation about Covid-19 and the vaccine, while recent protests like those carried out at Cork City Library were encouraged by the spread of hateful content against LGBTQ+ people.
“Violent and threatening rhetoric” directed at politicians surrounded discussions about the introduction of Covid restrictions, the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers into Ireland and teaching children about LGBTQ+ issues.
X, formerly known as Twitter, was the platform with the most activity around the spread of misinformation and disinformation. More than 1,100 relevant accounts posted 11.7 million times across nine topics analysed by ISD.
ISD looked at nine topics, with health the most popular among relevant accounts. Topics such as climate change, conspiracies, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and 5G were also included.
X was the platform with the most discussion of eight out of the nine topics.
The far-right is struggling to find a foothold on TikTok, however. Just 34 accounts were found, most of which pushed anti-immigration content but were quickly suspended from TikTok between February and March of this year.
The messaging app Telegram was identified as a key platform for the organisation of far-right activity. Russian state media and British far-right activist Tommy Robinson were found to be particularly popular.
41 entities were found to be using payment platforms like PayPal to raise funds for their activities. Stripe, co-founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison, was the most popular of these platforms.
These payment platforms have “policies or terms of service that prohibit their use to spread discriminatory, hateful, false or misleading information” according to ISD, however the content produced by these entities was found to violate those terms.
ISD is an independent think tank focused on fighting against extremism, hate and disinformation globally.
To combat the spread of harmful content online, ISD recommends that platforms do better at enforcing their own guidelines and moderating content.
It also recommends looking at why algorithms allow this content to spread.
Telegram, seen as a key platform for organisation in the Irish far-right, has very few safeguards in place against harmful content, according to the research.
Smaller platforms should look to larger ones to identify what does and doesn’t work for moderating content, the report said.