Far-right website sees upsurge in ‘hateful content’ and Covid-19 disinformation targeting Scots

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BitChute, which has been described as the YouTube of the far right, is also home to a growing number of videos that target prominent black and ethnic minority politicians in Scotland with extremist and racist rhetoric.

In the last month alone, more than 60 videos focusing on Scottish affairs have been uploaded to the site, prompting a Member of Parliament to call for an investigation by Ofcom. However, BitChute said it was a “politically neutral company” that “welcomes people from all walks of life.”

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A video cites claims from a London-based ‘alternative news’ site that more than 900 Scots die each month from Covid-19 vaccines. Another perpetuates viral conspiracy theories by claiming the nation’s response to the pandemic is a “depopulation scam,” and accuses Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon of working for billionaire US philanthropists.

Elsewhere, the narrator of a video claims that future ‘mass deaths’ of Covid-19 could be cremated at Scottish facilities owned by Amazon due to a shortage of burial sites. He then draws parallels with Auschwitz and urges people to refuse vaccines.

A series of videos also target Humza Yousaf, the health secretary, with a slew of racist comments left by users of the site. The narrator of a video claims that Mr Yousaf, who was born and raised in Glasgow, is an “anti-white racist” and is “obviously not ethnically or racially Scottish”.

After Scotland on Sunday contacted BitChute, the video was made unavailable in the UK, with the URL containing a warning that it “contains incitement to hatred”.

Other easily accessible videos target other BAME politicians, including Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar. A post strewn with curses against Abdul Bostani, an Afghan national who arrived in Scotland as a refugee 20 years ago, and who ran for office in Glasgow city council earlier this year.

A video on BitChute claims “mass deaths” will be cremated in large incinerators owned by Amazon.

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Its narrator says that the SNP tries to make “you and the foreigner one and the same” and argues that no foreign national, nor any person of “ethnic minority background” should be able to vote. The video was later withdrawn for UK users.

Such racially motivated content is evident elsewhere on BitChute. In recent weeks, a series of videos uploaded by far-right group Britain First showing its activists trying to mobilize support in Scotland has been viewed more than 4,200 times.

Mr. Yousaf said Scotland on the Sunday: “Unfortunately, I know only too well being the target of the far right, whether here in Scotland or elsewhere. Over the years, I have received threats against myself, my wife and even threats of violence against my children, all because of my skin color or my religious affiliation.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is among the BAME politicians targeted by BitChute users. Photo: Jane Barlow / PA Wire

“Scotland is not immune to this hatred and the content of BitChute aimed at Scottish audiences is of deep concern. The recent tragic events in Plymouth are a timely reminder that online radicalization can have devastating consequences. Ofcom must make full use of its powers to penalize companies like BitChute for peddling such harmful content.

Like other extremist groups banned from mainstream social media platforms, Britain First has taken refuge in BitChute as a place to amplify its rhetoric. His channel has 1,870 subscribers; Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defense League, has over 27,600 subscribers.

Concerns have grown over BitChute’s graphic content for several months, with Jewish groups reporting dozens of videos related to Holocaust denial and glorification.

In January, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish charity, reported the site to Ofcom after its research found “virulent racist, anti-Semitic and extremist content.”

A 2020 analysis of the content and use of BitChute by Hope Not Hate, the anti-racism group, warned that the site “knowingly hosts terrorist propaganda” and incitement to violence, its research identifying 114 videos in support of banned terrorist organizations.

Joe Mulhall, Head of Research at Hope Not Hate, said: “BitChute has still failed to tackle extremist material on its platform, which has turned it into a hotbed of hateful and violent content. .

“Unlike many other technology platforms used by extremists, BitChute is based in the UK and the fact that there is extremist content created and viewed by Scots is of great concern and should be of concern to the Scottish Government and law enforcement.

“BitChute’s lack of action has made the platform the video-sharing site of choice for far-right extremists – continuing to enable this content on the platform will only create more opportunities for hate extremists to voice their vile views. “

BitChute and other video sharing platforms have been subject to Ofcom regulation since last November. The framework is designed to oblige sites to prevent young users from viewing harmful material that “could interfere with their physical, mental or moral development”, and to protect the general public from material “which may incite violence or to hatred ”. In practice, however, regulations are limited, disinformation excluded from their scope.

An Ofcom spokesperson said, “We spoke to BitChute to make sure it takes more stringent measures to protect users from harmful content. Unlike streaming, our powers over video sharing sites do not relate to specific pieces of content.

“But where businesses aren’t doing enough to protect their users, we won’t hesitate to use our powers to hold them to account – including significant penalties. We also urge users to report any potentially harmful content to the service itself. “

It is understood that actions taken by BitChute as a result of its engagement with Ofcom include the imposition of chain-wide moderation measures on video creators who regularly exploit the rating rules, and a new system. moderation to automatically report terrorist content.

But Stewart McDonald, the SNP MP who released a report earlier this summer highlighting the growing scourge of disinformation in Scottish public life, said more needed to be done.

“Disinformation can be dangerously crippling for society, and it is vital that it be taken seriously,” he explained. “This particular website, which is to be investigated by Ofcom, highlights the need for a full and independent audit of the information ecosystem in Scotland, so that we have an idea the landscape of disinformation and, most importantly, the issues people face. being targeted with.

“If we fail to do that and fail to build the information resilience that countries like Sweden and Latvia have done, then we cannot be surprised if the radicalization that disinformation contributes becomes ugly. . “

In February, Deputy Commissioner Neil Basu, head of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism police, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that existing legislation cannot force companies like BitChute to remove equipment “unless it does not. ‘there is a clearly defined crime,’ and that was their choice. as to “how much they moderate when the content is extreme but not illegal”.

He added: “I support the need for a debate on the threshold between illegal material and lawful but extremist material capable of causing damage. There is an argument that the threshold is too high.

While BitChute has found a captive audience among far-right groups in the United States, the site is a British creation. It was founded in 2017 by Raymond Vahey, a British national based in Thailand.

Records filed with Companies House show that the platform’s parent company, Bit Chute Limited, is registered at a serviced office in Andover, Hampshire. Mr Vahey, 44, is listed as one of the company’s two directors, alongside Richard Jones, 47.

BitChute’s traffic from UK internet users increased 55% in the 12 months to July, according to Press Gazette, with the site attracting 3.9 million visits per month. Globally, it receives over 40 million monthly visits.

In a statement, BitChute said it was a “politically neutral company that welcomes people from all walks of life and treats everyone equally.”

He added, “We work proactively to ensure that our conditions and our ability to enforce them comply with regulatory requirements while upholding fundamental human rights. This year, we have expanded our moderation team and development efforts to support our growth and new regulatory requirements.

“It is essential for consumers that new competition can develop in a market that Google has monopolized, and this should happen in regulated regions such as the UK. Rather than pushing people to unregulated and irresponsible platforms.

“Hope Not Hate has a bad opinion of us, and their approach is counterproductive in reducing hatred and violence in modern society. We think it would be more useful for them to come and talk to us, because we have invited them on several occasions.

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