The analysis and detection of extremist and radical discourse in the context of the health crisis
Kontantin Todorov is currently working on an H2020 FET open project, in collaboration with sociologists, psychologists and AI experts in Germany, Denmark and Greece.
“We are not only fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemia”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, February 2020.
Societal crises generate instability in society and thus create fertile ground for radicalization and extremism. The global pandemic of 2020 has created a high level of societal uncertainty. The unknown success rates and duration of national blockades foster individual frustration, rising unemployment rates and a falling economy pose great challenges to politicians and entrepreneurs. Although it is difficult, at this stage, to estimate the precise results of the Covi crisis,19 experts predict a large-scale economic decline that could even surpass the economic crisis that followed in 2008. After 2008, we observed a rise of right-wing populists accompanied by a strengthening of transnational right-wing extremism throughout Europe. Similarly, extremist forces are exploiting and using the COVID19 crises to their advantage by spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories to amplify public feelings of uncertainty and mistrust. People with feelings of uncertainty and existential fear are more receptive to radical voices and conspiracy thinking. The magnitude of this risk became apparent early on, when in mid-February 2020, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), publicly stated: “We are not just fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic” (UN.org, 2020). Early studies on politically biased recent news content confirm this fear by showing that extremist actors distribute content that “contribute to a contradictory, threatening and distrustful world view”.
This is a clear challenge for Europe. Thinking about the world after the COVID-19 crisis, it is important for the EU to understand how radical programmes are taking advantage of this crisis and how extreme positions are changing as a result in order to prevent / limit the impact of these allegedly dangerous phenomena, instead of watching them develop.