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Vast Far-Right Disinformation Networks Discovered Across Europe Ahead of EU Elections

**Avaaz investigation uncovers flood of disinformation, triggering shutdown of Facebook pages with over 500 million views ahead of EU elections**

Europe is being drowned in disinformation ahead of EU elections later this week, a groundbreaking investigation from global citizens movement Avaaz has revealed. Mainly far-right disinformation networks were uncovered in France, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland, posting content that was viewed an estimated 533 million times over the past three months, before finally being removed by Facebook.

The disinformation pages shut down had more than 13 million “interactions” and 6 million followers -  almost three times the number of followers as the pages of the main far-right and anti-EU parties (Lega, AfD, VOX, Brexit Party, Rassemblement National and PiS) combined (2 million). Content from the networks was viewed on average 6 million times a day. 

Christoph Schott, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: “With days to go until EU elections, Europe is drowning in disinformation. The size and sophistication of these networks makes them weapons of mass destruction for democracy, and right now they are pointed squarely at Europe. The most worrying thing is we’ve just scratched the surface. There could be much, much more out there.”

“Disinformation is being used to deceive people and stoke anger and distrust in our politics, and the concern is that we’ll see the impact in the European elections this week.”

The networks were either spreading disinformation or using tactics to amplify their mainly anti-immigration, anti-EU, or racist content, in a way that appears to breach Facebook’s own policies. This includes the use of fake accounts, spamming, misleading page name changes and suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior. Yet they remained active on Facebook until Avaaz reported its investigation findings to the social media platform.

Disinformation being spread across Facebook includes a fake viral video seen by 10 million people that supposedly shows migrants in Italy destroying a police car (it was actually from a movie and debunked years ago!); a story in Poland claiming that migrant taxi drivers rape European women, including a fake image; and fake news about a child cancer center being closed down by Catalan separatists in Spain.

In total, Avaaz reported over 500 suspicious pages and groups to Facebook. Together, they were followed by 32 million people and generated 67 million “interactions” (comments, likes, shares) in the last three months alone. As a result of our investigation, Facebook took down 77 pages and 230 accounts from Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain and Poland -- accounting for the biggest known takedown of Facebook pages before the EU elections.

Christoph Schott, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: “Millions of Europeans will cast their votes this week after being exposed to toxic lies without knowing it. Facebook responded quickly to our investigation and shut these networks down, but it’s nowhere near enough. Facebook should make sure everyone who saw this disinformation receives an urgent correction, and stop their algorithms promoting this poison.”

This investigation is part of a campaign by Avaaz to fight the spread of disinformation ahead of the EU elections. A team of investigative reporters, researchers and data analysts are monitoring disinformation operations across the continent, focusing on identifying fake news before it spreads, rooting out the networks driving it and working with platforms and governments to correct false information. 

Avaaz is urging social media platforms to acknowledge the scale of disinformation and false news on their platforms and take responsibility to “correct the record” for users. Under the proposals, anyone exposed to disinformation in their feed should be notified and presented with information that is accurate and verified by qualified fact-checkers.
Avaaz polling shows 86.6% of people in Europe support the idea.

Notes to editor:

Full Report HERE -- please contact Andrew or Ahmed, listed below. 
Ahead of the EU elections, Avaaz is coordinating its citizens crowdfunded campaign from a base of operations in Brussels -- Spokespeople are available for interview (ENG, GER, IT, FR) 

Andrew Legon -- +447429865292 andrew.legon@avaaz.org
Media team Avaaz: media@avaaz.org 
Ahmed Alsalman -- +1 313 247 36 79 ahmed@avaaz.org