Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Far-right Facebook network uncovered before EU elections

More than 500 groups were found to be spreading fake news and hate speech, an activist organisation said

Facebook is under pressure about far-right groups abusing the platform. AFP
Facebook is under pressure about far-right groups abusing the platform. AFP

A network of far-right Facebook accounts with about six million followers across Europe was uncovered by the activist group Avaaz, days before the next European Parliament vote.

The group reported more than 500 groups it accused of spreading fake news and hate speech across France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland and Spain. It is still investigating hundreds of other accounts with an additional 26 million followers.

Facebook vowed to tighten its rules to keep extremist content off its platform, but has so far failed to deliver on this expectation. In breach of Facebook’s own rules, the accounts were found to be either spreading fake news or using false pages and profiles to artificially boost the content of parties or sites they supported.

The pages were taken down by Facebook, but were viewed half a billion times, according to estimates by the activist group.

Christoph Schott, the group’s campaign director, said the "pages have high levels of interactions. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if there are no interactions”.

“They have over 500 million views just on the pages taken down; that’s more than the number of voters in the EU.”

In Spain, Facebook took down several networks in April that were spreading far-right content to nearly 1.7 million people, days before national elections that saw a surge in support for the hardline Vox party.

The network spread fake news, including a doctored photo of a political opponent giving a Hitler salute, as well as misogynist and Islamophobic messages.

Despite the alarm about interference in elections the world over, a report by a British cross-party think-tank, Demos, found that widely held concerns about "fake news" were overblown.

Data analysis of content targeting Germany, Italy and France found the news stories were overwhelmingly from reputable sources.

But opposition to migrants and the amplification of stories related to migrant numbers and migrants failing to integrate were present across all the data.

This phenomenon has been seen in other misinformation campaigns in European countries.

Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor Orban told an audience of Fidesz party loyalists on Tuesday that these “will be the most important European elections since we started having them” and that “the question of migration will decide the future of Europe”.

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Eurosceptic parties are expected to win a third of seats in the European Parliament in a vote that will start on Thursday.

The centre-right European People’s Party – the largest group in parliament and a symbol of the conservative establishment – and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats are on track to lose 100 seats combined.

Updated: June 26, 2019 03:17 PM

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