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1ST LEAD Small groups manipulating online content, researchers fine By Andreas Heimann and Christian Andresen, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - The manipulation of online discussions by small groups of users, in particular regarding politics and hate speech, is the focus of two new studies commissioned in Germany.

One study published by several national broadcasters and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper focussed on the Reconquista Germanica platform, where researchers said that some 5,000 users planned campaigns to manipulate online discussions.

The activities of these users included falsifying ratings for videos or posts on social media, making often racist posts more visible, while insulting or humiliating other authors, politicians and YouTubers.

In September 2017, this group took over the discussion about the TV debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and challenger Martin Schulz, and made hashtags such as #nichtmeinekanzlerin ("not my chancellor") into trending topics.

The campaigns were organized by certain administrators with a military-style hierarchy, according to the researchers from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London and the group "Alt-right leaks."

A second study, also undertaken by the London institute, found that a small minority of internet users are responsible for much of the hate speech online.

About half of the likes on hate speech comments on Facebook were generated by about 5 per cent of accounts, according to the study undertaken by IT expert Philip Kreissel with the help of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Twenty-five per cent of the likes came from just 1 per cent of the profiles, he found.

These very active users often cluster their contributions around discussions where hate speech plays a role, but they are markedly passive in other discussions, the analysis found.

"Right-wing groups try in a targeted manner to manipulate Facebook algorithms. They decide on times and hashtags to catapult them into the list of trending topics," said Julia Ebner from the institute to the broadcaster NDR.

Some 3,000 posts and 18,000 comments were examined for the study, with contributions from several major German news publications.


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