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Coronavirus: Extremists using ‘dangerous conspiracy theories’ to exploit pandemic, says report | UK News

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Extremists have “fully exploited” the coronavirus pandemic to “breed hate” through “dangerous conspiracy theories”, according to a report.

Sara Khan, who leads the Commission for Countering Extremism, warned that the impact of “extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated”.

She said that fake news had been spread by far-right and far-left groups as well as Islamists during the outbreak, and found that hateful extremists used “divisive, xenophobic and racist narratives to sow division and undermine the social fabric of our country”.

Commission for Countering Extremism chief Sara Khan
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Sara Khan leads the Commission for Countering Extremism

The government adviser’s report also described as “critical” the need to invest in counter-extremism work, and to urgently publish a new plan on how to tackle the problem, as extremists will seek to “capitalise on the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 to cause further long-term instability, fear and division in Britain”.

Ms Khan said a “complete and urgent overhaul” of government policy is needed, and has previously branded the current definition of extremism as too broad. She also described the government’s response as “weak” and “insufficient”.

Last month, Ms Khan launched a legal review over concerns there were gaps in the law which allow extremists to push their agenda and sow divisions.

She said that the pandemic “has not discouraged extremists from propagating their hateful ideologies”.

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She added: “On the contrary, they have – as is always the case in a crisis – fully exploited the lockdown to promote dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation, most notably online.

“They seek to mainstream extremist narratives in society, for the sole purpose of inciting hatred, violence, public disorder and a breakdown in community cohesion.

“We have already seen how extremists discussed the 5G conspiracy theory on fringe social media platforms such as Telegram.

“In April, 50 5G masts were targeted for arson and vandalism in the UK.”

In May, MPs were told that hate crimes against south and east Asian people had risen by 21% during the pandemic.

The commission cited reports of British far-right activities and neo-Nazi groups encouraging other people online to “deliberately infect” Jews and Muslims.

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It also described reports of Islamists claiming COVID-19 was a “divine punishment from Allah on the West for their alleged degeneracy”, as well as a penalty against China “for its treatment of Uighur Muslims”.

The study said fake news posts were shared thousands of times online and more than 90% of posts containing “misinformation” were not acted on by social media companies after volunteers reported them.

The former head of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Rowley, is leading the inquiry, which will examine whether existing legislation adequately addresses “hateful extremism”.

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