German Researchers Accuse Americans, Not Russians, of Meddling in Its Elections

September 20, 2017, 8:52 PM UTC

Manipulators and meddlers pushing a right-wing agenda have turned their efforts to the upcoming federal elections in Germany, according to researchers there. But unlike the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the messages and disinformation are not coming from Russia.

They’re originating—or are at least inspired by—alt right groups in the United States, German researchers told USA Today.

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich analyzed 300 million tweets over the past six months and found Germany a prevalence of posts using the hashtag #AltRight. Simon Hegelich,” a professor of political science data at the university, told USA Today they had not been able to track specific Russian activity.

Instead, right-wing groups in the United States appear to behind messages on YouTube, Facebook, and messaging board sites like 4chan and reddit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term. Elections will be held September 24.

Merkel is expected to win. However, some of this meddling might have helped Germany’s right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. AfD appears poised to become the country’s third-largest political party, according to polls.

Merkel warned nearly a year ago as she launched her campaign that public opinion was being manipulated on the Internet. In a speech to the German parliament at the time, Merkel talked about how fake news on social media had given rise to the populist movement.

In January, Facebook said it would update its social media platforms in Germany to reduce the dissemination of fake news.

But recent reports suggest that right-wing groups are still able to easily infiltrate Facebook and use the platform to spread misinformation about the German elections. For instance, the founder of Berlin-based Digital Society Institute told USA Today that new and existing Facebook users in Germany who search for political discussion groups are given recommendations that prioritize right-wing parties—even if their “likes,” “groups,” and social network are on the left side of politics.

Facebook issued a statement that its Groups Discover feature has caused the issue. The company has temporarily disabled a news and politics category while it investigates.