Canadians are promoting right-wing extremism in thousands of conversations that are openly taking place on the internet, a new study finds.

On Friday, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a British-based think tank, released the findings in a 46-page report titled An Online Environmental Scan of Right-Wing Extremism in Canada.

“We identified 6,660 right-wing extremist channels, pages, groups and accounts,” the study says. The Canadian activity reaches an audience of millions of people, it said, and includes a network of 6,352 Twitter accounts, 130 public Facebook pages and groups, and 32 YouTube channels.

Researchers say they tried to track the internet presence of five far-right-extremist subgroups: White supremacists; ethnonationalists; anti-Muslim groups; militia groups; and misogynistic actors dubbed the “manosphere.”

Large social-media companies try to screen out racist and violent material so most of the problematic messaging found on the most popular internet sites relates to “ethnonationalism”– or people who “rarely promote overt supremacism,” according to the study.

The researchers also found that “the most common pattern of activity for more-active Canadian RWE [right-wing extremist] users on Twitter is “anti-Muslim conversation.”

Unambiguous neo-Nazi messages can be found on fringe sites, such as 4chan, where administrators don’t police what people post. “We found that Canadians are highly active on forums associated with white supremacy, representing the third largest nationality using 4chan’s politically incorrect board after the U.S. and U.K.” the study says.

The researchers did not look at closed internet forums or encrypted chat groups, which are also popular conversation venues for right-wing extremists.

The study reviewed messages and conversations publicly posted between January of 2019 and January, 2020. The research was funded by Public Safety Canada – the federal department that oversees police and intelligence officers now grappling with violent acts by far-right-extremists.

In California this week, police charged a man with the drive-by fatal shooting of a U.S. law-enforcement officer chosen at random. Prosecutors allege that the suspect saw himself as part of the “Boogaloo movement” – a term used for extremists who are out to use violence to incite a U.S. civil war.

Such motives are also alleged to be behind a gun-conspiracy prosecution launched in January against a former Canadian Forces reservist who was arrested in the United States. Last month, Canadian prosecutors charged a youth with terrorism offences alleging that he killed a Toronto woman because of his devotion to an online misogynistic movement.

The researchers consulted with independent academics in Toronto who provided a “seed” list of nearly 200 groups and individuals in Canada associated with right-wing-extremist causes. Next, they searched for the internet accounts of these and other extremists. Then, using geolocation and other data-research techniques, they tried to isolate the people, groups and accounts in Canada openly involved in amplifying far-right extremist messaging.

The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2020