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FakeWatch

REPORT: FAR RIGHT NETWORKS OF DECEPTION

Read the full report

Avaaz Report Network Deception Download
UPDATE: After the publication of this report, Avaaz continued its investigations and Facebook took further action on page takedowns.
Therefore - ahead of the European parliamentarian elections, Avaaz reported a total of almost 700 suspect pages and groups to Facebook, which were followed by over 35 million people and generated over 76 million "interactions" (comments, likes, shares) in the last three months. Facebook has taken down 132 of the pages and groups reported, accounting for almost 30% of all interactions across the reported networks. Together the pages taken down reached 762 million estimated views over 3 months.

The numbers below and in the report will therefore be updated in the coming days.

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Ahead of the EU elections, Avaaz conducted a Europe-wide investigation into networks of disinformation on Facebook. This was the first investigation of its kind and uncovered that far-right and anti-EU groups are weaponizing social media at scale to spread false and hateful content. Our findings were shared with Facebook, and resulted in an unprecedented shut down of Facebook pages just before voters head to the polls.

Our findings show that:
  • Disinformation networks removed by Facebook as a result of this investigation posted content viewed an estimated half a billion (533M) times over the last three months. This means that, on average, these networks produced content that was seen almost 6 million times per day.
  • In total, Avaaz reported over 500 suspect pages and groups to Facebook, which were followed by nearly 32 million people and generated over 67 million "interactions" (comments, likes, shares) in the last three months alone.
  • Facebook has already taken down 77 of the pages and groups reported, accounting for about 20% of all interactions across the reported networks.
  • Together, the pages removed had almost three times more followers (5.9 million) than the pages of the main European far right and anti-EU parties, League, AfD, VOX, Brexit Party, Rassemblement National and PiS, combined (2 million).
Our report focuses on two main aspects of disinformation on Facebook. Firstly, it exposes pages, accounts and groups that are spreading "disinformation content," classified as false or purposefully misleading information. Secondly, it identifies networks that are using "disinformation tactics," such as the systematic usage of fake accounts, misleading page name changes, or inauthentic coordination to amplify content in a way that appears to breach the social media platform’s own policies. We then define "disinformation networks" as groups of pages either spreading "disinformation content," using "disinformation tactics," or doing both. All the pages were reported to Facebook between April and early May 2019.

After demonstrating the scope of these disinformation networks, this report showcases real world examples: from fake accounts amplifying AfD content in Germany to pages spreading disinformation and white supremacist content in France, to dozens of pages created with generic themes in Italy to attract followers which are then turned into pro-League and 5 Star fake-news sharing pages.

Key findings include:
  • In Germany, fake accounts and pages were boosting the reach of the far-right AfD party and spreading disinformation on Facebook. We found an AfD politician who appears to have been involved in running inauthentic multiple accounts to amplify the AfD message. We also found illegal content on Facebook, including swastikas and posts supporting Holocaust-deniers. Over 131 suspicious accounts reported and eight pages/groups have already been removed by Facebook.
  • In France, 44 pages and groups were identified: one network spreading disinformation, and others posting dehumanizing, racist and white nationalist content, targeting migrants in particular. The main white nationalist page has already been removed by Facebook and three have been demoted for repeatedly spreading disinformation.
  • In Italy, 14 networks were discovered, many supporting the League and 5 Star movement, which spread either false information or content with divisive anti-migration and hateful messages ahead of the EU elections. Facebook shut down 23 pages with over 2.46 million followers as a result of Avaaz’s finding.
  • In the UK, we identified three networks engaging in what Avaaz reported as suspect spam behavior to boost low-trust websites, and another set of pages and groups in open support of dangerous individuals and groups banned by Facebook, such as Tommy Robinson.1 We also identified numerous duplicate and fake profiles operating on the latter. Facebook has already removed 132 posts, pages and groups reported to them.
  • In Poland, three networks were found to be spreading, with great frequency and coordination, across almost 200 pages and groups, divisive content covering a range of anti-immigration and anti-EU topics as well as false and misleading information. Facebook has removed 27 Polish pages with 1.9 million followers.
  • In Spain, three far-right networks were discovered spreading disinformation and hateful content. Most of the pages were supporting the far-right Vox party and were mainly managed by fake or duplicate accounts. Facebook removed 17 pages with 1.43 million followers days before Spain’s national elections in April.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Most users exposed to content spread by the networks uncovered in this report will probably never know that they were in many cases the victims of deliberate attempts to deceive them. The single most important thing Facebook can do to protect our democracies is to counteract the influence of such coordinated disinformation campaigns by adopting "Correct the Record," which means that Facebook must:
  • Immediately issue corrections from verified fact-checkers to every single user who has seen or interacted with disinformation on the platform; and
  • Inform followers of pages that have been taken down or demoted about the malign efforts of those pages.
At the same time, Facebook 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 on its platform, like the mass use of fake and duplicate accounts to coordinate the spread of disinformation content, misleading page name changes, inauthentic behaviour, or spamming techniques.