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'Vast' Far-Right Disinformation Networks Discovered in EU

A report from the US-based Avaaz movement shows that millions of Europeans are being exposed to far-right propaganda on Facebook.



Fake news, fake quotes, and movie clips presented as proof of migrant misdeeds are only some of the tactics used by far-right Facebook pages, activists from the US-based Avaaz movement said when presenting a new report on Wednesday.

The malicious content was seen 533 million times in the last three months alone, or six million times per day, according to the Avaaz estimate.

While European voters prepare for this week’s EU parliamentary polls, the EU is “drowning in disinformation,” Avaaz’s campaign director Christoph Schott said.

“The size and sophistication of these networks makes them weapons of mass destruction for democracy, and right now they are pointed squarely at Europe,” he added. “The most worrying thing is we’ve just scratched the surface.”

Avaaz discovered around 500 suspicious pages and groups while researching far-right propaganda in Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Poland, and Italy. Facebook has already removed 77 of them. The removed pages alone had 5.9 million followers. In comparison, official Facebook pages dedicated to the Italian League, Germany’s AfD, Spain’s Vox, Poland’s PiS, France’s National Rally and the UK’s Brexit Party have only two million followers combined.

Movie clips and hate speech

As one of the examples of far-right propaganda, Avaaz points to an Italian page supporting Matteo Salvini’s League party. The page published a video which allegedly shows migrants smashing a police car. The video is actually a movie scene, and the report has been debunked several times, but it is still “widely shared,” Avaaz says in the report. Similarly, a page in Polish used a screenshot from a movie to support a fake news story about migrant taxi drivers raping women.

Also read: Technology as the Villain: The Political Economy of Digital Hate

Another tactic used by far-right pages in Spain and elsewhere, is to start a group under an inconspicuous title, such as a “watchmoviesforfree.es” and then gradually change the name to “Watch Movies”, then “Movies of Spain” and then “Fight for Spain”, serving up far-right and nationalist content to its old user base. A similar page was discovered in Italy, which started as a support group for farmers in northern Sicily and ended up as a page supporting Salvini’s party.

In Germany, the activists list posts in defense of Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck or images with swastikas on them. They also name AfD politician Peter Schmalenbach for sharing a fake quote on migration attributed to EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. The AfD official accused Timmermans of wanting to “wipe out” European states.

In France, the group identified multiple platforms uploading identical content to artificially boost the visibility of their hate messages. The pages do not use Facebook’s “share” function but instead post the content as original on every page. Avaaz points out to three identical posts, which speak of France being “invaded by millions of foreigners” who “rape our children, your women, and declare war on us.”

Avaaz wants corrections from Facebook

In addition to removing 77 pages, Facebook has also taken down 230 individual accounts since being contacted by Avaaz. The activists described it as an “unprecedented” cleanup of the platform, but said it was “nowhere near enough.”

“Facebook should make sure everyone who saw this disinformation receives an urgent correction, and stop their algorithms promoting this poison,” Avaaz representative Christoph Schott said.

“Millions of Europeans have been exposed to the lies, manipulation, and hate described in this report, and the overwhelming majority of them will never find out about it,” the report states. “And neither will the billions more who will be exposed during the next election, and the next one after that – unless Facebook acts now.”

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle.

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