Stoking the Flames: The influence of press and government rhetoric on far-right anti-migrant engagement

- 21 05 23

Download ‘Stoking the Flames’

Read our research on the influence of press and government rhetoric on far-right anti-migrant engagement.


Key Takeaways

Far right engagement on migration is increasing as the Government’s ‘Stop the boats’ campaign ramps up. HOPE not hate found a 149% increase in messages on anti-migrant far-right channels on Telegram from 2021 to the first months of 2023.
Far right activity online spikes around key Government announcements. In an example from May 2022, an announcement by Boris Johnson that 50 asylum seekers had been told they would be sent to Rwanda led to a 72% increase in messages about migration in far-right groups on Telegram.
Far-right engagement on migration increases when media coverage increases. Articles in The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Sun and local media are shared in far-right anti-migrant discussions on Telegram, often alongside extreme racist language.

Government hostility towards migrants is encouraging the far right

Far-right anti-migrant activity has been sharply rising in recent years. From anti-migrant activists filming people arriving on small boats along the south coast, to the harassment of asylum seekers housed in hotels, to anti-migrant demonstrations attended by hundreds of people, the far right is drawing crowds and building community support to a degree it has not managed in years.

This is not happening in a vacuum. The far right’s revived interest in immigration and asylum over recent years has piggybacked on mainstream anti-migrant rhetoric and hostile policy proposals.

This research is stark proof that the Government is not taking the far-right threat seriously, but actively feeding it through their rhetoric.

The data shows that with each Government announcement, cracking down on small boat crossings, threatening wave machines and jet skis in the Channel or sending people thousands of miles away to Rwanda, far-right activity spikes every time.

Patrik Hermansson, Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate

In recent years, migration has been weaponised by mainstream actors and press, including an anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment that played out through the 2016 referendum and the Windrush scandal, and more recently, an active demonising of Albanians as ‘criminals’, punitive suggestions of gunboats in the channel and threats of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda or offshoring vulnerable people on barges.

Our new report, Stoking the Flames, assesses how far-right activity is being enabled by mainstream politics and media. We have analysed the relationships between British far-right messages on the platform Telegram, government statements and policy proposals around migration, and articles from three major newspapers: The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and The Sun.

We find that both government statements and media coverage play a role in driving far-right engagement around migration. And we identify clear overlaps in rhetoric between media coverage of migration and far-right messages.

In a hostile climate, where people who are migrants and refugees have faced daily harassment from organised far-right political groups, we need to see significantly greater safeguarding and action to address the backlogs trapping people in unsuitable accommodation where they become targets for hate.

Politicians and the media need to take real responsibility and drop their line of inflammatory language that incubates the far right.

“The Government are the architects of a broken asylum system, but instead of focussing on fixing it for what people seeking sanctuary and receiving communities need, they have doubled down on a divisive agenda with dangerous consequences. This research provides clear evidence that the Government’s ‘stop the boats’ campaign is feeding the far right.”

Rosie Carter, Director of Policy at HOPE not hate

Chip in to help stop racist hate dividing our communities

The far right are stoking hate against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. They are are preying on the fear and anger felt by communities who are struggling with the cost of living, spreading misinformation and making people seeking asylum their scapegoats.

Together, we can meet this new threat. We need to counter the racist messages of the far right and stop the scapegoating of people seeking asylum. But we need your help.

Chip in now

Tell the government to drop its anti-migrant hostility

The evidence is clear – the government is feeding far-right anti-migrant hostility. It has to stop. Sign our petition now, and urge the government to drop its hostility towards migrants.

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