Truth decaySprawling disinformation networks discovered across Europe ahead of EU elections

Published 22 May 2019

Investigation uncovers flood of disinformation aiming to influence to forthcoming EU elections. The revelations led Facebook to take down pages with more than 500 million views. The mainly far-right disinformation pages which were shut down by Face book had three times the number of followers than the pages of more established right wing, populist, and anti-EU partiers such as Lega (Italy), Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) (Germany), VOX (Spain), Brexit Party (U.K.), Rassemblement National (France), and PiS (Poland).

Europe is being drowned in disinformation ahead of EU elections later this week, a new investigation from Avaaz, a U.K.-based global citizen-activist organization, has revealed. The networks, mainly far-right disinformation networks, were uncovered in France, U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland. These networks posted false and misleading content which was viewed an estimated 533 million times over the past three months, before finally being removed by Facebook.

According to reports in TechCrunch, Wired, and EUObserver, the disinformation pages which were taken down had more than 13 million “interactions” and 6 million followers — almost three times the number of followers as the pages of more established far-right, populist, and anti-EU parties such as Lega (Italy), Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) (Germany), VOX (Spain), Brexit Party (U.K.), Rassemblement National (France), and PiS (Poland), which stands at 2 million combined.

Content from the networks was viewed on average six 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 report says that 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.