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.

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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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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.

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“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.