Suspicious Election Campaign Activity on Facebook

How a Large Network of Suspicious Accounts Promoted Alternative Für Deutschland in the 2019 EU Parliamentary Elections

July 22, 2019

GW School of Media and Public Affairs

News reports and scholarly research have noted European far-right populist parties are overrepresented on social media, relative to their standing in the polls. 

Several factors might contribute to this phenomenon.

Far-right parties complain their views are not given fair treatment by traditional outlets. One logical response has been for them to invest in alternative modes of communication. For example, the Sweden Democrats, UK Independence Party, and Jobbik (Hungary) devoted substantial resources to social media as early as 2014 (Klein & Muis, 2018).

Some of their success might be the result of algorithmic biases in the platforms themselves favoring populist movements. Recent reports have noted that recommendation engines tend to favor content that is divisive, or even conspiratorial in nature (Lewis, 2018).

Yet the question of whether there has been outright manipulation of platforms through the use of bots, sock puppets, and other artificial means has been largely a matter of speculation.

Most research has focused on Twitter, which has a relatively open API available to researchers. Yet Facebook has more active users in Europe than Twitter does in the entire world (Salinas, 2018). Facebook’s market share in Germany is 65% compared to Twitter’s 4%1. More than a quarter of German adults report getting news on Facebook daily (Pew Research Center, 2019).

This report focuses on Germany in the months leading up to the May 2019 European parliamentary elections.

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