Tracking Extremism: Where the Far Right Moved after Parler

By TapTheForwardAssist

After Parler’s removal from both Google Play and Apple, supporters of the far-right movement needed a place to go. Many were outraged that their social media info from the platform to arrest and prosecute members of the movement following the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

With Parler down and other platforms cracking down on white supremacist groups and speech that incites violence, former Parler users are increasingly turning to encrypted messenger apps. According to data collected by Axios from Apptopia, encrypted messenger Signal has seen a 667 percent increase in new users from Jan. 5-10. Other encrypted messenger applications also saw huge increases:

Graphic courtesy of Statista
  • CloutHub 472%
  • MeWe 244%
  • Telegram 146%
  • Rumble 144%

According to the data, one Telegram channel dedicated to a QAnon group had ballooned to over 35,000 members by Jan. 11, a sharp increase from only a few weeks prior. According to Marc-Andre Argentino, a researcher who specializes in studying QAnon and other extremist movements, platforms like Telegram can serve as a recruitment and radicalization pipeline, pushing people to further extremes.

“If your virtual life is living in QAnon chatrooms and your social media news feed all comes from people talking about how the election was stolen or how the Democrats are a bunch of child-molesting cannibals,” said Aitan Goelman, an attorney who helped prosecute Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, “then that becomes your reality even though it’s lies.”

In addition, the move to more encrypted communication channels makes it more difficult for the FBI and other national security organizations to monitor and react to chatter that could spark real-world violence when it’s on encrypted platforms.

“It’s absolutely concerning,” said Harvard Kennedy School senior fellow Dipayan Ghosh. “It was only to be expected that extremists pushed off the mainstream social media platforms would move to end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms.”

Naturally, not all of the increase in users of encrypted messengers – particularly Signal and Telegram – is due to the crackdown on white supremacy and the far-right. Many WhatsApp users moved to apps like Signal and Telegram after an announced change to WhatsApp privacy policy. The phrasing of the new privacy policy made many users concerned that they would be forced to agree to allow their WhatsApp data to be shared with Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company. The public backlash resulted in a delay of the privacy rule change.

In the meantime, FBI officials are still working to review over 100,000 pieces of digital evidence in the Capitol insurrection that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol police officer. The agency is still seeking tips that can help them identify members of the participants, including those responsible for the death of Officer Brian Sicknick.

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