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The conspiracy theorists cashing in on YouTube’s algorithms

One anti-vaccination campaigner nets £500,000 a year from advertising on video platform

Conspiracy theorists are profiting from videos posted online that spread misinformation and push disturbing content, including false claims about Keir Starmer.

YouTube and filmmakers on the video platform are making money from “charity, bank and telephone advertisements” that appear when the misleading videos are viewed, according to The Times. The platform uses an algorithm to “serve up adverts from organisations including Amnesty, Vodafone, Disney and HelloFresh” alongside videos that spread false and dishonest information.

One such video went viral “days” before Starmer was “ambushed by an angry mob” outside the Houses of Parliament last week, the paper found.

The video, titled “Boris blames Keir for letting off evil BBC Saville (sic) (clapping hands emoji) Huge Starmer Fail”, has been viewed “more than 150,000 times” and “comprises footage of prime minister’s questions”.

The video’s creator is Alex Belfield, a former BBC Radio 2 presenter who is awaiting trial on charges of stalking Jeremy Vine and seven other former colleagues. His YouTube channel has 373,000 subscribers and includes 5G conspiracy content. He is thought to have made “up to £500,000 a year” from YouTube advertising. 

Videos on Belfield’s channel have been watched “hundreds of millions” of times and are frequently pushed by conspiracy news platforms such as Resistance GB, on encrypted messaging app Telegram. William Coleshill, the owner of the Resistance GB platform,  was “one of the protesters who ambushed Starmer”, said The Times. 

Anti-vaccination and conspiracy theorists are active on a range of platforms as social media giants struggle to effectively tackle Covid-19 misinformation. 

Piers Corbyn

The brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Piers Corbyn has “moved away from denying man-made climate change to campaign on a more fashionable conspiracy – that the pandemic is fake and the vaccines for Covid-19 are dangerous”, reported Sky News

Corbyn has become something of a “Covid-denier influencer”, said the broadcaster, appearing as a “headline act” at anti-vaccination rallies and protests across the country. The conspiracy theorist told the broadcaster that he “accepts that Covid-19 exists but denies that the coronavirus is anything but a type of flu”.

In an email to Sky News, Corbyn insisted “there is no pandemic”, while leaflets distributed by his conspiracy website Stop New Normal declare “End all Covid Vax” and “The Covid - symptom virus doesn’t EXIST!... There’s no proof!”.

He is thought to have amassed “around £45,000” in donations through his conspiracy website as well as through funding campaigns on CrowdJustice, while other fundraisers set up for Stop New Normal are worth “at least £3,700”.

An investigation by The Independent also found that Spotify, Apple and YouTube have all distributed podcasts featuring Corbyn “during which he shares mistruths” and calls the pandemic a “hoax”. 

William Coleshill

A former Tory councillor in Enfield, north London, Coleshill is now is edior-in-chief of Resistance GB, a conspiracy theory-peddling news platform that was instrumental in distributing videos of Starmer being mobbed in Westminster.

Footage of the incident bearing the Resistance GB logo is “being shared widely across anti-vaccine social media networks and beyond” said The Guardian. On Telegram, a social media platform used by many far-right activists, a post showing the video was viewed 90,000 times in less than 24 hours. 

Coleshill was suspended from the Conservative Party in 2018 for making “racist remarks” about a Labour colleague, reported the Enfield Independent

The Independent reported in October that Coleshill also recorded himself chasing Michael Gove through Whitehall, demanding: “How do you justify the illegal lockdowns that have been pushed on this country?” According to The Guardian, he has also “confronted” Labour MP Jess Phillips and the BBC journalist Nick Watt.

Remeece

Edward Freeman, an anti-lockdown rapper who goes by the stage name of Remeece, made headlines after he toured UK schools “blasting his anti-vaccine anthem Don’t Tek Di Vaccine to pupils outside school gates”, said The Observer

A video on his YouTube channel features the lyrics: “You’re injecting who? We’re taking our kids out of school, Pfizer you’re a big dirty fool, Try to walk a mile in my shoes, Footsoldiers we don’t watch the news, Burn down tyrannical rules.”

The monetised video has been watched almost 20,000 times, “alongside advertising from companies including Smile Direct Club, the orthodontic company”, said The Times.

The Observer reported that his songs are being “actively promoted” to Spotify users in “playlists generated by its content recommendation engine”.

Some songs had references to other conspiracy theories, “including claims that satanic paedophiles run the world, and that the Sandy Hook school shooting in the US, which left 26 dead, was a hoax”.

Spotify removed several of the songs that had been flagged by the paper, which it said breached rules banning content that promotes “dangerous, false, or deceptive content about Covid-19” that may pose a threat to public health. 

But the findings have “stoked debate” over the streaming giant’s handling of misinformation and it has faced further scrutiny over its relationship with podcaster Joe Rogan, who has been accused of spreading Covid-19 misinformation.

Louise Creffield

The Brighton-based mum of four runs a 90,000-person strong Facebook group called “Save Our Rights UK (SORUK)” and previously worked for Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle. 

Although Creffield has “stridently denied” that SORUK is a conspiracy theory group, Sky News says the group has “shared media calling into question the pandemic, has appeared alongside well-known conspiracy theorists and encouraged people not to take the vaccine”.

SORUK is funded through donations, and in January Creffield launched a new social media platform called Autarki, which costs £20 a year or £2 per month. 

Creffield was fined more than £20,000 for breaching Covid-19 restrictions by holding anti-lockdown protests in London on 29 May and 26 June of last year, according to The Argus

Kate Shemirani

Kate Shemirani was “one of the most celebrated faces” of the anti-vaccination and anti-mask campaigners who emerged in the first months of the pandemic, said The Jewish Chronicle in September 2020.

She rose to prominence after using social media accounts under the name “Kate Shemirani – Natural Nurse in a Toxic World”, to promote “her own views of the pandemic” through which she garnered a large online following, said The Independent

A former registered nurse, she was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in June 2021 after months of suspension for spreading misinformation. The NMC concluded that her behaviour had fallen “seriously short of the standards expected of a registered nurse and amounted to misconduct”.

In a speech to an anti-lockdown rally in July 2021, she “compared medical staff to Nazi war criminals, referred explicitly to their executions and demanded that people gather the names of doctors and nurses in the UK”, said The Guardian.

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