Anti-Lockdown Protests, Twitter & QAnon, Sarah Everard Protests

Anti-lockdown protest in Amsterdam in February 2021.

The planned March 20 anti-lockdown demonstrations

A group’s call for worldwide protests against coronavirus lockdown measures on March 20 is picking up steam in Europe and North America.

The Telegram channel “World Wide Demonstration 2021-03-20,” created in mid-February, has been used to post calls for demonstrations. The channel, which uses the hashtag #WewillALLbethere on its posts, has amassed over 37,000 subscribers and 17,800 Facebook followers. On Facebook, over 1,300 users have expressed interest in attending rallies in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, two of several cities where events are being promoted by a Page of the same name. Almost 400 Montrealers have said they would show up at rallies advertised there.

Promotion of the event crossed into the offline world in the UK, where anti-lockdown groups have pasted stickers on public walls and handed out “business card” ads. One notice, stuck to a National Health Services billboard in London, promoted the demonstration, as did a Telegram channel with at least 5,589 members called “London March 20th Vigil For the Voiceless.”

Analysts such as Rita Katz have linked the protest campaign to QAnon, but outward links between that community and the campaign appear limited. The World Wide Demonstration Facebook Page lists as a press contact a group called Freie Bürger Kassel, described on its website’s “About” page as an anti-lockdown group based in Kassel, Germany. Interest for the events so far appears highest in Europe.

It’s important to recall that past “protests” promoted by communities such as QAnon have failed to come to fruition, including one around the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20, QAnon’s falsely prophesied March 4 and the Great Reopening on January 30.

•        Conspiracy theories about the Sarah Everard vigil. Social media users are making baseless claims about attendees of a London vigil — which saw police handcuffing women — in remembrance of the 33-year-old woman whose body was found March 10 after she had gone missing a week earlier in south London while walking home at night. (A police officer has been charged with the kidnap and murder of Everard and faces a separate allegation of indecent exposure.) YouTube channel Hugo Talks, which has previously shared conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown misinformation, alleges that arrests made at the vigil were “set up,” with the arrest of Patsy Stevenson, whose photo has been featured in several news reports, “staged.” The video making the unfounded claims, viewed at least 38,313 times, cited Stevenson’s profile on a site for actors. The clip and its claims have also been amplified by Covid-19-denying Instagram accounts, such as queen_of_freedom21, where it received at least 3,923 views. — Lydia Morrish

•        Twitter said it has removed 150,000 QAnon accounts. The social media platform previously removed 70,000 QAnon-promoting accounts, but now says that number has more than doubled. Twitter clarified that the accounts weren’t bots.

•        Russia targeted Biden in the 2020 US presidential election: report. A declassified intelligence report said Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized extensive efforts to hurt Biden’s candidacy, including using proxies to push misleading and unsubstantiated allegations against Biden to US officials and outlets.

•        A new SARS-CoV-2 variant was found in France. The variant was discovered in Brittany; several cases were not detected by standard PCR tests. It is not thought to be more serious or transmissible than other known variants, French health officials said.

•        Facebook was urged to tackle Spanish-language misinformation. A new campaign, coordinated by US Congress members and advocacy groups, aims to draw attention to “rampant Spanish-language disinformation” that puts Latinx communities at risk.

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