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Conspiracy theory and nationalist groups embraced Reform UK at general election

Some groups looked to sow the seeds of a “stolen election” narrative, similar to events in the US after Donald Trump‘s defeat, and also attempted to recruit Reform UK voters to their cause.

And after the election, prominent accounts have continued to state there was “election interference” and that “Labour cheated”.

Sky News asked Reform UK for a response but did not receive a reply before publication.

Sky News worked with Prose, an open source intelligence company, which analysed data from 10,000 Telegram accounts that regularly post conspiracist and extremist content, to identify accounts posting about the UK general election.

Compared to Labour and the Conservatives, Mr Farage’s return as leader of Reform UK appears to have attracted conspiracist groups, leading to a sharp and sustained surge of interest – with Mr Farage and Reform UK dominating the conversation.

In total, Prose found 938 unique Telegram chats, with 15.6 million followers between them, which posted 14,758 messages related to the UK election up until 25 June, of which 542 chats posted 5,239 messages about Mr Farage/Reform UK – more than any other party.

However, the true figure of actual users will be fewer, as this does not account for people who are members of multiple chats (if an account is a member of two chat groups it will be counted twice); some accounts will also be bots and some will also be based abroad.

Those groups were broadly supportive of Mr Farage and Reform UK.

In contrast, the same accounts have called Sir Keir Starmer a “globalist puppet”. Others said the former Conservative government was “intentionally COLLAPSING Britain” as part of a conspiracy.

“When we first started looking at how conspiracists were talking about the British general election, they weren’t talking about it very much at all,” Al Baker, managing director of Prose, told Sky News.

“However, as soon as Nigel Farage announced his intention to stand as the leader of Reform UK, interest in the election in conspiracy circles jumped enormously.

“It is very important to say that the fact conspiracists and extremists are supporting Mr Farage and Reform UK doesn’t mean that Mr Farage and Reform UK supporters are all conspiracists and extremists.

“However, it is clear that if you are a conspiracist or an extremist, you are far more likely to support Reform UK than other parties.”

One of the most prominent groups that focuses on the QAnon conspiracy theory – which believes that Trump is fighting a powerful group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles and whose supporters were part of the crowd that stormed the US Capitol in 2021 – said it would be launching a Reform UK based group on Facebook with QAnon content in order to “bring a lot of traffic to the group”.

“We will still be posting about Q and Trump and tying it all into Reform UK…” the organiser wrote.

Sometimes it was the other way around: one conspiracist account encouraged people to sign up to be candidates for Reform UK in the next set of local elections.

As part of his campaign, Mr Farage has complained about polling companies, saying that a More in Common MRP poll that he said minimised Reform UK’s projected results was “misleading and amounts to election interference”.

Mr Farage also accused Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, of “serious election interference” because of its rules on balancing election coverage between parties.

That has attracted interest from conspiracy accounts, which subsequently complained of “polling manipulation”, “election interference” – and predicted “major vote rigging”.

“We’re seeing the beginnings of election denial narratives focused on the UK,” Mr Baker told Sky News.

“There appears to be groups of people online who are anticipating some kind of electoral fraud being perpetrated, in the 2024 general election.

“So, potentially, we’re leading up to a situation where the legitimacy of the election is in danger of being questioned by supporters of one of the more prominent parties at the election.”

Mr Farage has also voiced his opposition to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“Reform UK will reject the influence of the World Economic Forum and cancel Britain’s membership of it,” Mr Farage wrote on X, formerly Twitter. He repeated the post on election day.

It is not clear what prompted this. Sky News asked Reform UK as part of our enquiry.

Those comments have been welcomed by the accounts monitored on Telegram. The WEF, a thinktank, is at the centre of the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory, the idea that the WEF is trying to impose a totalitarian world government.

It’s often connected to the Great Replacement theory, which states that a global elite is seeking to deliberately ‘replace’ native born populations through migration.

The UK is not a member of the WEF – no countries are.

One prominent Telegram account said: “People are waking up and especially what Reform announced yesterday in their manifesto – announcing they will cut ties with the globalists like the WEF and WHO have got people behind them even more.”

And another account with more than 100,000 followers has applauded Reform UK’s campaign promises.

There is some crossover between conspiracist and right-wing, nationalist groups on Telegram. Several nationalist groups endorsed Reform UK.

Activist Tommy Robinson said Mr Farage is “putting across our arguments to the nation very skillfully and in a great way. There is only one option at this election and that is Reform UK”.

Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a group founded by former members of the British National Party (BNP), said: “I suggest voting for Reform, although I am not endorsing them.”

Mark Collett, another former BNP member and founder of far-right nationalist group Patriotic Alternative, encouraged his followers to vote for nationalist parties standing in the election if possible.

But if it was a choice between mainstream political parties, he said: “I suggest you vote Reform and help them to completely wipe out the Conservative Party.”

Collett added the old campaign leaflets put out by the BNP were “actually markedly tamer than Farage’s current rhetoric”.

Prose warned that similar activity may be happening on more mainstream platforms than Telegram but that it was difficult to tell because of restrictions put on research by X and Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook.

“We know that they have spread to a certain extent to Facebook and, X as well, but it is very, very difficult to know how far they have spread or how influential they are without better access to data.”

METHODOLOGY

The General Election data from this story was sourced by Prose from TelepathyDB, a database of publicly available messages from Telegram. TelepathyDB archives data from 10,000 Telegram sources which regularly post or share content promoting extremism, conspiracy theories, propaganda and hate speech, or content which is shared among groups promoting extremism, conspiracy theories, propaganda and hate speech.

From the 10,000 accounts in the Telepathy DB database, 938 were identified as posting about the General Election.

A review of the most prominent Telegram sources included in the General Election data confirmed that nine in 10 regularly post material including unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud, anti-vaccination conspiracies, climate change conspiracies and holocaust denial.

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