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Facebook flooded with far-right disinformation prior to EU elections, report warns

Andrew Blake The Washington TimesJune 6, 2019

Facebook has removed dozens of pages caught spreading far-right disinformation ahead of elections this week in the European Union, activists reported Wednesday.

An investigation undertaken by Avaaz, a U.S.-based activist group, found 550 suspicious Facebook pages and groups and 328 profiles responsible for sharing far-right disinformation geared toward audiences in Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Poland and Italy, according to their report.

“What we’ve seen is like a vast usage of fake accounts and a vast usage of misleading tactics,” Christoph Schott, a campaign director at Avaaz, told Germany’s Der Spiegel. “So it’s more disinformation tactics that are being used to pretend that a specific issue which is often very hateful or very racist or anti-migrant is more popular than it actually is.”

Facebook removed 77 of the pages and groups and 230 of the profiles after being presented with the findings, albeit not before the content in question was viewed upwards of more than 500 million times in the three months preceding this week’s parliamentary elections, the report said.

The pages were followed by a combined 5.9 million Facebook users prior to being purged, or nearly triple the 2 million users that follow Europea’s largest far-right and anti-EU parties, it 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,” Mr. Schott said in a statement. “The most worrying thing is we’ve just scratched the surface. There could be much, much more out there.”

In a statement, Facebook thanked Avaaz for sharing the group’s research and confirmed the removal of several profiles and pages for content cited in their report.

“We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity policies, as well as multiple Pages for name change and other violations,” Facebook said, TechCrunch reported. “We also took action against some additional Pages that repeatedly posted misinformation. We will take further action if we find additional violations.

“As we have said, we are focused on protecting the integrity of elections across the European Union and around the world,” the statement read.

European Parliamentary elections are slated to be held between May 23 and May 26.

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