Election Radar: "We're Coming For You": Malcolm Robert's Viral Vaccine Conspiracy Speech Ignites Threats of Violence
Reset Australia is investigating social media activity during the Federal election, with a focus on platform transparency, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. To support those responding, our Election Radar shared emergent case studies to track how this material is travelling across social media platforms to reach Australians preparing to vote.
Reset Australia conducts research and analysis of the distortion of public narratives by social media, we do not endorse any of the views contained in these reports, nor do we publish all Election Radar briefings.
“We’re Coming For You”: Malcolm Robert’s Viral Vaccine Conspiracy Speech Ignites Threats of Violence
UAP candidate Sean Conway’s post of the speech to Twitter has received over 620k views.
On Tuesday, 29th March, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts delivered a 10 minute speech to the Australian Senate alleging a conspiracy to cover-up the harms of Covid-19 vaccines involving a number of Australian Government agencies. The video of the speech has gained significant traction across multiple social media platforms, being shared by a number of vaccine-sceptic influencers and politicians. Comments across these various posts have called for violence against politicians and public servants. On Facebook alone, One Nation’s transcript of the speech has been shared by dozens of covid-sceptic and conspiracy Facebook pages based in Australia and overseas with a combined following of over 1.4 million accounts (via CrowdTangle). An excerpt video shared from Malcolm Roberts’ Facebook Page had more than 61k views, while the full speech video has not been shared on Facebook, instead appearing on Roberts’ Rumble account where it has received 143k views (at time of publishing).
Seemingly independently of Roberts, videos of the speech were posted to Twitter (with one example receiving more than 620k views and 13.6k retweets and quote tweets), YouTube, Rumble (at least 27 independent uploads), BitChute (at least 58 independent uploads) and Telegram, where it has been shared dozens of times across vaccine-sceptic and conspiracy-led channels, including by prominent wellness influencer Pete Evans. This pattern of sharing content across an array of mainstream and more fringe social media platforms presents a challenge in monitoring, responding and regulating electoral disinformation.
A BitChute upload of the speech was posted by Pete Evan’s Telegram Channel.
The full speech video includes a number of baseless claims about a government conspiracy to cover up Covid-19 vaccine harms, including a suggestion that the Australian Bureau of Statistics is delaying and falsifying deaths statistics and ‘hiding miscarriages’. Roberts names four specific people as having allegedly died from vaccine side-effects without evidence. Channel 7 has reported that one of the named people’s families have called Robert’s claims ‘disgraceful’ and requested that he apologise. The speech includes an array of claims about Australia’s vaccine testing regime and suggests that the Liberal and Labor parties have corruptly taken donations in exchange for supporting vaccine manufacturers. The video ends with an ambiguous threat, which has been highlighted by a number of those sharing the post: ‘all of you who have perpetrated this crime… We’re not going to let you get away with it … We are coming for you. We have the stamina to hound you down and we damn well will’.
In addition to fanning conspiracy fears in the content of the speech, the many separate posts of the speech across the various social media platforms provide a space for other actors to amplify Covid-19 disinformation and make calls for violent action. Seemingly in response to Roberts incitement to ‘hound down’ politicians and public servants that have supported vaccine programs, commenters across the various posts frequently and prominently called for their execution directly, or euphemistically by invoking the ‘Nuremberg Tribunals’. These violent comments appeared mostly on Telegram, Rumble and BitChute (one in ten comments on one of the uploads analysed made these references). They were much less prevalent on Facebook or Twitter.
This incident demonstrates the complexity of monitoring and countering disinformation threats across a host of platforms, accounts and geographies. For example, Roberts’ Facebook post of the truncated video includes none of the claims about vaccine harms, but links directly to the full transcript, Rumble video and Roberts’ Telegram channel where followers find the broader baseless claims and violent comments. Other posts on Facebook include links to the video on BitChute and Rumble where the content is monetised via ads and donation links. This suggests that actors spreading and monetising vaccine falsehoods are strategically utilising Facebook and other mainstream platforms to connect audiences to their more extreme content on other platforms and build their followings there.
The two prominent links to the right of Roberts’ Facebook video post take viewers to the full speech transcript and video, and to Roberts’ Telegram channel.
Social media platforms play a central role in enabling the spread of sensational and conspiratorial content. The way this speech has proliferated and become a host for violent threats, despite appearing to be in breach of Facebook’s COVID-19 policy, demonstrates the inadequacy of existing measures of platform self-regulation.