Coronavirus information group rebrands as sinister ‘free speech’ cesspit to spread racist, homophobic and transphobic hate

Coronavirus information group rebrands to spread racist, homophobic hate

An Irish coronavirus information group on Facebook has rebranded itself as a “free speech” group to spread racist and homophobic hate, indicative of a worrying trend in Ireland.

The group, titled “Irish COVID-19 news, politics and current affairs group, free speech zone” has around 3,800 members.

While it began in January as a way to share health information on the developing coronavirus crisis, the Irish Facebook group has slowly morphed into a platform for homophobic, transphobic and racist hate and conspiracy theories.

Many of the posts now focus on Ireland’s gay children’s minister, Roderic O’Gorman, who has been subject to a far-right smear campaign after being photographed next to rights activist Peter Tatchell at Dublin Pride in 2018.

Tatchell has been accused of advocating for paedophilia in a letter he wrote to The Guardian in 1997, a claim he strongly denies. Posters in the group have suggested O’Gorman has “links” to Tatchell and therefore promotes child sex abuse.

One administrator of the group posted a photo of the children’s minister kissing his husband and wrote: “Does Ireland have a problem with straight family man/woman filling the role?”

Other posts include transphobic hate and horrific racist jokes about George Floyd.

Aoife Gallagher, an analyst at the anti-extremism think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told The Times that in Ireland “far-right actors have been using Facebook groups to spread their messaging for some time”.

She continued: “We saw this last year when certain far-right leaders infiltrated local Facebook groups to spread hateful content about migrants and refugees… The repurposing of Facebook groups is something we’re seeing more and more often.

“In the US, groups that were set up to protest lockdowns are now awash with Black Lives Matter misinformation and conspiracies.”

Gallagher added that the Irish group shows that Ireland is not immune to same kind of “repurposing” of social media pages seen in the US.

She said: “The proliferation of this kind of content in such groups, and the attacks on Roderic O’Gorman recently, shows that Ireland is not immune from the kind of rhetoric that has taken over the US in recent years.”