Facebook users in Germany complained about seeing posts from far-right groups so often that the social media platform temporarily turned off a feature that allows people to discover news stories, USA Today reports.
A group of activists has been using Facebook’s targeting features to push right-wing content to supporters of centrist Prime Minister Angela Merkel leading up to nation-wide elections Sunday, Sandro Gaycken, founder and director of the Digital Society Institute located in Berlin, Germany, told USA Today.
“It’s really strange because Facebook says this should be impossible because you are only supposed to get recommendations based on your own ‘friends,’ ‘groups’ and ‘likes.’ But everyone in Germany is getting these right-wing party recommendations,” Gaycken said.
“Even left-wing journalists” were seeing the unwanted posts, Gaycken said.
Facebook said in a statement that the complaints from Germany were related to the website’s “Groups Discover” feature. Facebook turned off the “news and politics” in the “Discover” tab pending more investigation, USA Today reported.
Some suspected the trollish Facebook behavior was coming from Russian operatives, but “so far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity,” Simon Hegelich, political science professor at the Technical University of Munich said.
“A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the ‘alt-right’ movement in the U.S.,” Hegelich said, according to USA Today.
The activity appears to come from within Germany, and the closing of the feature only affects German Facebook users at present.
German lawmakers approved a law that would fine social media platforms $57 million if it didn’t remove “obviously illegal” content from user pages. Facebook initially opposed the law, saying it would create “an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines.”
After the law passed, Facebook said it is committed to fighting online hate speech, but expressed reservations about the law’s effectiveness. “We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” Facebook said in a statement.
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