The federal government needs to take action against encrypted messaging apps like Telegram to curb the rise of far-right extremism, a Victorian inquiry has been told.

Dr Belinda Barnet, a media lecturer at Swinburne University, told a hearing that far-right extremists had initially been sharing hateful content on mainstream sites such as Facebook and Twitter but were increasingly being deplatformed.

Groups were now moving to spaces like Telegram to share their ideas without censure or detection from the authorities, which Barnet said was dangerous.

She told the parliamentary inquiry that governments need to ensure the regulations placed on mainstream social media sites to tackle far-right extremist messaging are expanded to encrypted apps.

Dr Christine Agius, an associate professor in politics at Swinburne University, told the inquiry that encrypted apps are also allowing the far right to draw in people from the “fringes of society” to share grievances.

These views can act as a gateway to more extremist far-right ideology, the inquiry heard.

But while these groups are concerning, Agius said governments needed to ensure they were not too heavy-handed in their response, as shutting down far-right extremists may lead them to believe their freedom of expression is being suppressed – bolstering their views.

Governments could look at the root of the problem and address areas like digital literacy to stop the spread of misinformation, Agius said.

Soo-Lin Quek, from the Centre for Multicultural Youth, said there had been a misinformation “epidemic” during the pandemic which young people had been particularly susceptible to.

“People who spread misinformation have become much more sophisticated and smarter in terms of how they package information,” she said.

She called on Victoria to work with the federal government on a national anti-racism strategy, saying racism had accelerated during the pandemic.

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