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Online searches for far-right content across Canada increase during lockdown, study finds

U.K. based research firm finds extremist web searches spiked during COVID-19 crisis in Canada
WATCH: The firm compared keyword specific searches in the six weeks preceding lockdown and the six weeks of confinement. The results are staggering. Global's Felicia Parrillo has more.

The results of a new study show that during the COVID-19 lockdown, some have turned to the internet in search for far-right extremist content.

Moonshot CVE, a U.K.-based counter-extremism research firm, has noticed a significant surge in Canadians seeking out extremist content online.

Moonshot tracked searches for “violent far-right keywords” in the six weeks leading up to the countrywide lockdown and compared them to the six weeks when Canadians were confined.

READ MORE: Montreal police investigating acts of vandalism, violence targeting Asian community symbols

Searches in the Montreal and Laval areas rose 24 per cent. Out of the six Canadian cities surveyed, Montreal and Laval saw the largest hike in searches for violent far-right radio and podcasts.

Meanwhile, Ottawa experienced the largest overall increase in search traffic, with a hike of 34.7 per cent. They also saw increases in searches for radio and podcasts, videos and tattoos.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus conspiracy theories test government, evidence: experts

Roxane Martel-Perron, with the Centre for Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, says the results of the study show that people are anxious as a result of the pandemic, and may be turning to the internet for answers.

READ MORE: Montreal city councillor to introduce motion denouncing anti-Asian racism

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and people may be looking for a culprit,” said Martel-Perron.

“We’ve seen a rise, for example, in Montreal of hate incidents, hate crimes towards certain communities — whether ethnic communities or religious communities.”

Experts warns of evolving threat of incel movement and far-right extremism
Experts warns of evolving threat of incel movement and far-right extremism

In recent months, the Asian community in Montreal has been targeted by acts of vandalism.

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Lion statues at the entrance to Chinatown were spray-painted with graffiti in early March and similar statues in front of a Buddhist temple in Côte-des-Neiges were destroyed at around the same time.

“Some people are trying to find a simple solution,” said Martel-Perron. “Far-right content is really clear, engaging. It easily points a finger to ‘the other,’ whoever that may be.”

Martel-Perron says the increase in online searches doesn’t necessarily mean it could lead more people to be radicalized, but it’s still a cause for concern.

Both the Montreal and provincial police declined Global News’ request for interviews on the subject.