Open data exposes how British anti-vaxxer groups shifted to new online platforms

Data reveals how major UK anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown groups migrated their supporters to new social media platforms after conventional platforms censored their content due to #disinformation and misleading claims.

Piers Corbyn speaking at an anti-lockdown protest (Image: Dreamstime). Reporters found Mr. Corbyn, the elder brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, willing to accept donations to his website to channel the money to StandUpX, a conspiracy theory and disinformation spreading group that organises protests across the UK

StandUpX, also known for its anti-5G conspiracy theories and #disinformation, is among the most aggressive, well-organised and dangerous anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown protest groups.

StandupX, (also often referred to as SUX) organised protests all across Britain over the past year and built potent local chapters. Media organisations such as Channel4News fact-checked some of their claims and confirmed misleading and outright false information.

Fact-checking: Patrick Worrall, 1 September, 2020

After pressure from larger social media companies such as Facebook — Facebook first closed its 40,000 members strong group in September — its organisers called in November for migrating followers to a new alternative social media landscape.

On Twitter, it posted: “…It won’t be long before they delete us [on Twitter]”.

After the group’s Facebook page was deleted, another page quickly reemerged in December, though with fewer followers. The account’s admit email was published as ‘kellystandupx@protonmail.com’. AFacebook account that suits the criteria links to kelly.proton.9 (Proton for protonmail).

When searching for the email address, we come across a subdomain of anonfiles.com for which Kelly’s email address is mentioned. It belongs to a domain that was confirmed to host malware, phishing sites, and other malicious pages.

Sky News reported Kelly to be ‘a key figure’. She posted alone six posts today on the SUX official channel (most of the past months’ posts are by her).

In February, Facebook tried again and deleted the group’s main page (the main public SUX groups is SUX official with just about 1,000 members). The group responded by urging followers to either follow this public page or migrate to the Telegram channel (established on November 11).

StandUpX’s fear to be soon kicked off Twitter seems justified. In January, we find the StandUpX2 handle to have called on its followers to actively harass a local business and its staff. In a post from January 19, StandUpX asks followers: “…let’s attack PimlicoPlumbers via email”. The company and its founder Charlie Mullins advocated for vaccine passports and wearing PPE at work.

On Telegram, StandUpX has one main channel. There are local discussion groups and an ‘Info and Action’ channel for common debate.

Analytics of the main channel, called StandUpX Channel with 6,437 subscribers, receives considerable traffic. A post from March 23 got more than 4,000 views. The channel’s discussion board for the 24th Rally got has comments.

Updates on protests are posted on the groups ‘Info & Action’ channel with 5,039 members. There, members and admins share links like online petition (the one we came across was for “helping health and social care workers NOT to take covid-19 vaccination”).

Among the most active handles in the Telegram channel is ‘Elaine (UK)’. We find her username: ‘Torixbear’. There is an account under the same username and image on Disqus. There is also a Twitter profile that unmistakably links to it. We also see it commenting on a video posted on Brandnewtube.com (about Piers Corbyn spreading disinformation about “a [clearly false] dangers of masks to the public”)

The ‘Elaine (UK)’ aka ToxicBear handle is found on other platforms

We can use various open-source analytics tools to gauge engagement on Telegram. An option here is #OSINT tool Popster (there is a one-week free trial). The viewing statistics show the main channel got fewer views over the past months. At the same time, the number of posts uploaded increased. In other words, admins seem to work harder but fewer people engage with the content. That could be positive, though we don't know whether people are just engaging more offline.

Statistics from social media analytics took Popster for StandUpX’s Telegram channel

There is another strategy. StandUpX created a vast geographical presence via establishing local splinter groups on Telegram. There are groups for North, East, West, South, Croydon, Bristol and 34 other locations across Britain (a list was posted by one commentator here). The data on subscribers for locations suggest the group is strongest in places where they organised protests. But there are also outliers that deserve more attention.

Analysis by Techjournalist (B.H.). Noteworthy perhaps, locations with larger Universities such as Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire have comparably fewer subscribers.

The jump to new platforms seems typical for conspiracy theory groups as well as to groups affiliated with the extreme right. Patters for StandUpX mirror those of right-wing extremists. A previous analysis of the Identitarian Movement, a pan-European nationalist extreme right-wing group, as StandUpX, maintains local chapters. These national groups act with some freedom, have their own online presence, channels and may campaign on their own turn differently. Austria, Germany, or France have their own chapters and local chapter leaders. France banned Generation Identity (Les Identitaires) this March.

Funding streams

SUX’s strategy on funding mirrors funding streams employed by right-wing activists. Standupx sells T-shirts and hoodies on the website. So does the right-wing Identitarian Movement. It allows generates some additional income next to donations.

Left: online sales of merchandise by StandUpX (via Spreadshirt). Right: online sales of merchandise by Identitarian Movement in Austria

We reached out to Spreadshirt and ask whether the model (shown above here) is aware that his image is used to sells merchandise for Standupx. The platform failed to respond in time for publication (we will update the post as soon as we receive an answer).

StandUpX’s donation page links visitors to a PayPal account. The admin is a Kelly Scott. Kelly fits the name on the Facebook account admin profile we encountered earlier. It allows us to follow the #OSINT trail. An online search finds a blond lady based in London and her Twitter. The handle retweeted many of StandUpX’s posts (and a video on Bitchute).

On Telegram, we find a number of posts by the admin account ‘Kels’ (which probably stands for Kel[ly]S[cott]). Last year this account posted about a Crowdfunding campaign organised by JustGiving. The post itself is not accessible any longer but the marketing on ‘Keep Britain Free’ (a large anti lockdown group, lead by Simon Dolan, a millionaire businessman, whose crowdfunding campaign today garnered £427,000) published in August (coinciding with when Kels posted it) shows that the group attempted to raise £9,500 to organise protests against lockdown restrictions and leaflets.

According to some excellent reporting by Sky News, we also know that Piers Corbyn suggested donations could be made to StandUpX through his site, which shows how close Corbyn is to the group.

Left: Kels post on a crowdfunding campaign. Right: the campaign amplified via ‘Keep Britain Free’

In the comment section, we see how commentators reinforce the benefits of offline tactics to ‘converting’ people.

David Laurance at Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism advocacy group that monitors the British far-right (in addition to anti-vaxxers such as StandUpX), told reporters that “many [conspiracy groups] continue to thrive on alternative social media platforms and messaging apps and their network remain organised and strong”.

Hope Not Hate documented StandUpX’s links to other protest groups. It defined StandUpX as a homegrown and anti-5G outfit which organised dozens of small anti-lockdown events. We can confirm that.

SUX protests links to major conspiracy theorists who co-organise protests, such as one with as David Icke, a British conspiracy theorist and antisemite. Last year, Icke was banned from Twitter on the grounds of Covid-19 disinformation.

Other anti-lockdown/anti-vaxxer groups are offering their support

Searching across YouTube for StandUpX content we find other accounts. One is called ‘Tyrant Finder U.K’. The channel posted vast video material of StandUpX protests and lockdown policing measures.

On YouTube, the handle garnered 2,955,869 views. Three video documented a speech by Mr. Corbyn, one calling for to ‘break lockdown save lives’ — which is disproven. Several studies, including one by the prestigious journal Nature, proved the benefits of large scale lockdowns to saving lives.

Video edit by TyrantFinder UK supporting a StandUpX protest. Tyrant Finder U.K’s Twitter account, @tyrant_u, was started in February 2020, in the early stages of Covid-19. The handle invited followers to join StandupX anti-lockdown protests last November and criticised the arrest of Mr. Corbin in Bristol.

One video edit is dedicated to a StandUpX protest in Bristol (other similar ones exist, with roughly 250 other videos, receiving considerable online traffic).

Similar to StandUpX, visitors are invited to donate money. A Paypal account was set up by Christopher Batt, at TyrantFinderUK, who is based in Bristol.

Tyrant Finder U.K also maintains a Discord channel, with 275 members and an admin called ‘andidrew2003 (a guy from Norwich, Norfolk presumably called Andrew Shirley).

Another source of tailwind for StandUpX and co stems from support by the alternative media outlets. RT (formerly RussiaToday) confirmed to have itself helped to spread disinformation and conspiracy theories in the past, gave StandUpX last Summer a chance to publicise freely its views (with limited questioning) and allowed it to make possibly harmful connections to democracy and freedom.

I am not responsible and I am not endorsing any of the content in the social media posts this article mentioned above

Investigative journalist with a technical edge, interested in open source investigations, satellite imgs, R, python, AI, data journalism and injustice

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