Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Facebook helping Germany to stop Russian meddling

  • Zuckrberg said he wanted Facebook to be a "force for good" (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has said he is helping to stop Russia from interfering in the German election, the way it did in the US and France.

"We've been working to ensure the integrity of the German elections this weekend, from taking action against thousands of fake accounts, to partnering with public authorities, such as the Federal Office of Information Security, to sharing security practices with the candidates and parties," he said in a video clip on Thursday (21 September).

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  • Russian media have been trying to harm Merkel for years (Photo: Asteris Masouras)

He said Facebook had shut down "thousands of fake accounts" linked to Russia that were involved in trying to sway the vote "in our countries, including recently in the French elections".

"We're also examining the activities of the accounts we removed [in Germany]. We've not yet found a similar type of interference effort in Germany," he said.

He spoke after Facebook revealed that one Russian group spent more than $100,000 on buying 3,000 ads designed to help elect US leader Donald Trump last year.

He said he would turn over evidence to Congress and take measures to stop future abuse.

These included forcing advertisers to make public who paid for what and doubling Facebook's team of internal detectives from 250 to 500.

"I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity," he said.

"I don't want anyone to use our tool to undermine democracy. That's not what we stand for."

Russia used Zuckerberg's firm to sow news on material stolen by Russian hackers on the eve of the French election in May.

It has used Facebook for the past two and a half years to publish propaganda designed to hurt German chancellor Angela Merkel.

It has also used it to mobilise anti-Merkel rallies by Russian expats and by German neo-Nazis.

Harming Merkel

The Russian campaign has done little to harm Merkel's chances of re-election.

Her centre-right CDU/CSU party leads in polls, with up to 36-37 percent support, against the centre-left SPD party on 20-21 percent.

An EU source told EUobserver that German activists, such as the Correctiv group and the Artikel 38 Dashboard project, had helped to debunk Russian fake news.

The source also said German media and the German public were more wary of outside interference after what happened in the US and in France.

German observers credit Russian propaganda with helping the far-right AfD party to gain popularity, however.

The AfD is poised to enter parliament with up to 12 percent of votes, in what would give an anti-EU and pro-Russia platform to 85 of its MPs in Germany's national assembly.

The SPD is traditionally more Russia-friendly and recently advocated a review of EU sanctions.

The far-left Die Linke party, which is also poised to win Bundestag seats, is even more pro-Russian.

Tactics

Germany warned in July that Russia might do what it did in France before the German vote on Sunday after Russian hackers stole 16 gigabytes of data from the Bundestag.

This did not happen, with just three days to go.

With Zuckerberg having also noted that Facebook saw less Russian activity in Germany than in France, the EU source said Russia might have changed its tactics.

"It does not need to engage in the same kind of operation in Germany because four out of the main five parties there already take a pro-Russia line," the source said, referring to the SPD, the AfD, Die Linke, and the liberal FDP party.

The FDP, a potential CDU/CSU coalition partner, had said Germany should consider de facto recognition of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, in what would amount to a U-turn in EU policy.

"To break a taboo, I fear that we must see the Crimea as a permanent provisional arrangement, at least for now," Christian Lindner, the FDP chief, told the Funke Mediengruppe, a German media firm, in August.

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