Conspiracy Theorists are Going Underground

May 5, 2021

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Conspiracy, Social Media

I’ve noticed an interesting, and worrying, shift with some of the more extreme online communities recently. On the one hand it’s great to finally, and belatedly, see social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google hold people and organisations to account when they spread nonsense such as COVID vaccine misinformation. For example, just this week Advance NZ’s Facebook page has been temporarily removed (opens new window). Local conspiracy theorists such as Damien DeMent, Lee Williams, Vinny Eastwood and Karen Brewer are currently concerned over suspension of their social media profiles, because they are perpetuating dangerous untruths. Of course, most of these people also have multiple social media accounts, and although they lose much of their audience when one account is banned from social media, they don’t always disappear altogether.

There’s a flipside to this crackdown, in today’s technological world where it’s becoming easier and easier to set up an alternative platform. Many of the people who are losing access to their social media accounts are being driven to places where it’s harder to keep an eye on them - alt-right social sites such as Parler and Gab, and secure messaging apps like Telegram and Signal. The US owner of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, is even threatening to create a new platform focused on free speech, which he’s calling Frank. Well, not exactly free speech - you won’t be allowed to swear or blaspheme (opens new window) on his new site.

In New Zealand these communities, groups and channels have names such as The White Rose, the NZ Liberty Movement, Counterspin, New Zealand Free Speech, Eyes Open, Truth Seekers and even Greymouth Skeptics (who are anything but skeptical!). This is where the alt-right are hob-nobbing with hippies, and far right nationalists are mingling with anti-vaccine mothers. It’s nice that these people are now less able to influence those on the fence with their wacky ideas, but I wonder whether they’ll become mode radicalised in a more sheltered, close-knit setting. After all, the last thing we want to see in New Zealand is another terrorist attack by someone with a horribly warped view of reality.