Monday

19th Aug 2019

Far-right hate speech flooded Facebook ahead of EU vote

  • Content mean to to 'dehumanise' migrants was main focus, Avaaz said (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Shady Facebook users have been promoting far-right views ahead of the EU elections, sometimes using graphic images of sex and violence, a new investigation has found.

The more than 500 suspicious pages on the social media firm were identified in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK by Avaaz, a US-based activist group, in recent months.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The pages were followed by 32 million people, compared to just a few million followers for the official Facebook pages combined of the main far-right parties in those six EU states.

But they promoted those parties' ideas by attacking migrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTI people, and EU officials.

They did it using hate speech deemed illegal in some jurisdictions, as well as disturbing graphic content, and fake quotes that went further than the far-right parties' official posts, Avaaz found.

And their Facebook pages had high levels of activity - they were viewed 533 million times, or six million times a day, in the past three months, as voters prepared for the European Parliament elections on Thursday.

Avaaz investigators came across animated pictures of Nazi salutes, images of swastikas, and praise for Holocaust-deniers in Germany.

They highlighted one image of a decapitated, bleeding corpse on a British Facebook page with the caption "A billion Muslims want Sharia Law".

They also spotlighted a fake news story on a Polish Facebook page saying migrant taxi drivers in Europe were raping female passengers.

The story showed a picture of a dead woman by the roadside with her underwear torn off, but the image was in fact a screenshot from a fictional Polish film called "I Am The Murderer".

Avaaz did not accuse far-right parties of orchestrating the Facebook activity, but it said the suspicious "networks" behaved in "systematic" ways to "amplify" the parties' messages.

They did it by publishing identical content on different accounts at the same time or by "inauthentic coordination" of likes and shares as well as "spam behaviour".

They also did it via online tricks called "bait and switch", in which a Facebook page on a popular non-political subject builds up fans then switches to politics at a tactical moment.

The Spanish page Lucha por Espana about free online movies was launched in 2013 but started publishing far-right content in 2017, for instance, Avaaz said.

Other examples of suspicious content included fake quotes by European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and wild accusations about EU Council president Donald Tusk.

Tusk, the main opponent of Poland's nationalist Law and Justice party, was a former communist regime spy, according to one Polish Facebook page.

Timmermans had said "monocultural states must be erased" and "the mass migration of Muslim men to Europe is required for this purpose", according to a picture and fake caption of the Dutch politician's speech that was circulated by Peter Schmalenbach, a member of Germany's far-right party AfD.

In the south, an Italian page showed a fake video (also from a fictional movie) of migrants smashing a car to drum up support for the far-right League party.

Facebook had deleted 77 of the extremists' pages identified by Avaaz, it noted.

That helped to corroborate its findings, but it was just "the tip of the iceberg", the US activist group said.

The US social media firm "has allowed far too much suspicious activity and malicious content to spread. It needs to clean up its house ​and immediately run a proactive and EU-wide scan for further suspicious activity," Avaaz said.

"Facebook did a good job so far of acting, but should have done a better job of detecting these pages," Avaaz campaign director Christoph Schott added.

"They should do this themselves. We are around 30 people, they have over 30,000 in their safety and security team," he said.

The hate campaign was designed to have an impact beyond this week's EP vote, no matter how well or badly far-right parties did, he also said.

"They run disinformation campaigns that go on for years ... making a specific issue seem more important," Schott said.

Key details on how Europeans will vote

It's one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world with over 400 million eligible voters. National rules apply, and national parties run, but the stakes are at European level.

Opinion

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

Von der Leyen aims to 'rebalance Europe'

The German EU Commission president-elect hopes to bridge divisions within the EU, as she meets with EU leaders setting up her team of commissioners.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us