Fake content and hate speech promoting far-right views received roughly a half a billion views ahead of the EU elections, according to a new study.
The investigation — conducted in six countries over the course of three months by the global non-profit online advocacy group Avaaz — found that far-right groups were flooding social media with false content.
The NGO reported over 500 suspect pages and groups to Facebook that had garnered roughly 32 million followers and over 67 million comments, likes, or shares.
In Germany, fake accounts supporting the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party spread disinformation and false content including duplicate accounts of far-right candidates. In Poland, three networks spread and amplified divisive anti-immigration and anti-EU content across almost 200 pages and groups.
In some posts, movie scenes were disseminated and re-posted to look like breaking news events.
A page supporting the far right Italian League party purported to show migrants smashing a police car. The video, which was actually from a movie, received almost 10 million views. That post has since been removed.
In Poland, people shared an image from a film and said it showed a rape victim of a migrant taxi driver.
Facebook said that combating fake news ahead of the European elections was a priority, but they did not provide exact numbers of the pages they took down as a result of Avaaz’s investigation.
“We thank Avaaz for sharing their research for us to investigate. We are focused on protecting the integrity of elections across the European Union, and around the world,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Euronews. “We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity policies… We also took action against some additional Pages that repeatedly posted misinformation.”
Facebook is running an election operational centre of 40 teams tasked with “protecting the integrity” of the EU elections. One of their tasks is removing fake news accounts.
Avaaz says that following the report’s release to the social media platform, Facebook took down 77 pages and groups and 230 of the specific accounts the non-profit group had reported.
The group says that the pages removed had almost three times more followers than the main-stream European political parties.
The new report comes just two weeks after a US cybersecurity firm said that Russian disinformation on several social media websites had reached an estimated 241 million Europeans.
The firm found that Russian bots had amplified existing far-right and divisive content to reach European voters.
Facebook has come under fire since the 2016 US election where Russian accounts spread fake news to US voters. The company has since been working to change its image and purge the platform of hateful content, revising its recently on live streaming and violent content.
“Everyday we block millions of fake accounts, and continue to deploy smarter technologies and better defences. But we are in an arms race against sophisticated and dedicated adversaries that want to attempt to manipulate public debate,” the company told Euronews.