Asia-Pacific

Conspiracy theory linked to Christchurch attack at risk of entering mainstream: report

Flowers at a memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque following the Christchurch terror attack. Source: AAP

A conspiracy theory - that was cited as a motivation for the Christchurch terror attack - has been gradually gaining popularity on social media, according to new online analysis.

An ideology claiming white people are at risk of being wiped out through violence or migration was growing in popularity on social media in the lead up to the Christchurch shootings, a new analysis of social media has found. 

Accused terrorist Brenton Tarrant, 28, allegedly outlined his motivation for the March attacks, which left 51 Muslim worshippers dead, in a manifesto posted to social media which listed 'the Great Replacement theory' as one of his motivations. 

The Great Replacement theory is an ideology that claims white European populations will eventually be replaced by ethnic minorities but has been denounced as racist and lacking in scientific evidence.

The man responsible for the popularisation of the theory, French author Renaud Camus, has also rejected the Christchurch attack as an "appalling" act and said the shooter misunderstood his work. 

But months later, the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has found that language related to the ideology had gradually entered mainstream social media, including through references from a number of world leaders, during the past seven years.

In this Saturday, March 23, 2019 file photo, Worshippers prepare to enter the Al Noor mosque following last week's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Worshippers prepare to enter the Al Noor mosque, the location of a mass shooting earlier this year.
AAP Image/AP Photo/Mark Baker

Between 2012 and 2019 at least 1.48 million social media posts mentioned 'Great Replacement' in English, French or German, according to the report released on Sunday.

The analysis found that the usage of the term on Twitter was steadily increasing until it spiked in March 2019 following the attack.

In four years, the term's usage almost tripled from 120,000 in 2014 to just over 330,000 in 2018, with English speaking countries increasingly contributing to the online discussion, accounting for 32.7 per cent of posts.

"It can be observed that debate reached its peak after the Christchurch attack, which propelled the term ‘Great Replacement’ to mainstream attention," the report reads.

"The centrality of the so-called Great Replacement theory to the Christchurch attack requires policymakers to reassess the threat posed by groups who continue to espouse and spread this theory online."

The report points to the repeated use of the term "invaders" to describe Muslims and migrants by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and US President Donald Trump as closely mirroring the language used by direct proponents of the theory.

The official Twitter account for the President of the US is also listed in the report as one of the "top ten most influential Twitter accounts whose holders engaged with the conspiracy theory and its support networks".

Mr Trump and extreme-right site Defend Europa are the only Twitter accounts listed in the top 10 that are not French.

'The Great Replacement theory' - also known as the white genocide conspiracy - was coined by Mr Camus in his 2012 book Le Grand Remplacement. 

Since then, the ISD found the theory was spread through a variety of channels, including memes, rallies and stunts, mainstream social media and right-wing alternative media sources.

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