(Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

Far-right channels promoting white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry on a popular encrypted messaging platform are seeing a steady growth in followers.

The news comes after recent warnings by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that far-right extremism should be considered a transnational threat.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has also warned of an increase in right-wing extremist activity in recent years and an Australia Day outing at the Grampians by members of the National Socialist Network was a stark reminder that groups advocating anti-Semitism and theories of Aryan supremacy promoted by Adolf Hitler still exist.

Appearances by members of local chapters of the Proud Boys — a group dedicated to Western chauvinism — at various protests have also raised concerns.

There is evidence that both organisations are experiencing a growth in interest in their worldviews, but one is getting greater traction online: the number of Telegram users following the National Socialist Network channel — created on January 8 last year — rose by 304 over a 10 day period.

A jump from 3285 on February 12 to 3417 on February 15 coincided with the weekend of the third Victorian lockdown — but that may not offer a complete explanation for the increase in interest in Nazi ideology, as the identities and locations of those who join a public channel are not visible.

Channel users gradually increased to 3589 by February 22.

Contrast this with its presence on Gab, an online platform that has less stringent moderation than Twitter and Facebook. The National Socialist Network’s profile was also created in January 2020 but has attracted only 360 followers over the same period.

The public face of the National Socialist Network, Thomas Sewell, regularly publishes to his personal Telegram feed — created in June 2020 — and this is being read by 4283 followers as of February 22. That represents an increase of 480 followers over seven days.

There is also a preliminary insight into how groups with similar ideological backgrounds help each other build an online following.

One group spreading extreme right views had 1141 people following its public channel on February 17, but its numbers increased to 1988 by February 22 after a post by the National Socialist Network encouraging its audience to join that page.

The Proud Boys Australia account — established in August 2019 — tells a different story when it comes to the growth of an online following on Telegram. It recorded 934 followers on February 22, representing an increase of 17 followers since February 16.

There is a Gab account carrying the title Proud Boys Australia that was established in August 2018. It has 420 followers but only four posts. Three of those posts bear the date August 3, 2018 and the account has been dormant since.

Newer Proud Boys accounts for chapters in NSW and Victoria have been established on Telegram over the past two months and their user numbers tell a similar tale.

Proud Boys Victoria, which was established on January 31, had 322 followers on February 22, an increase of 15 over seven days.

Proud Boys NSW, which was only created on February 6, had 121 followers on February 22 — up from the 109 seven days earlier.