Facebook has been forced to remove dozens of far right disinformation pages in recent weeks, after research by Avaaz showed the scale of the issue poisoning discussion on the platform.
In a damning report into Facebook’s lack of oversight and inability to deal with the far right threat on its platform, Avaaz found a network of Facebook pages working together to use “spam behavior” to boost three “alternative news” websites (Political UK, UK Unity News Network and The Daily Brexit). These pages setup specifically to support Brexit and promote a range of far right ideologies. Two of these sites were setup within the same week in April 2018 and are hosted by the same web hosting company with IP addresses within the same range.
All three websites are built specifically to push a hard no-deal Brexit alongside a variety of far right propaganda, such as publishing anti-Islam fake news and memes, and together they had amassed 1.17 million followers.
As part of their research, Avaaz “mapped 709 Facebook Pages in the UK and collected 190,745 posts they sent between February 3 and May 7, 2019”. They found that these “alternative media” sites all appeared in the top 20 most shared websites in the UK, sometimes above The Guardian and BBC, and collectively had nearly 5 million interactions during the period. This is despite the fact that the sites were rated as low quality spam sites by tools such as Ahrefs, which gave The Daily Brexit a domain score of 0.4 out of 100 (theguardian.com scores 93 and this websites scores 50 on the same measurement).
These websites were able to game Facebook’s algorithm with activities such as “the same content being reposted multiple times by pages and groups, at almost the exact same time”, which seems to further indicate either automated posting or coordination by a handful of individuals behind all three sites.
The scale of the issue uncovered by Avaaz is particularly concerning in the days leading up the EU elections, with disinformation campaigns pushing far right groups and ideas across the continent.