On Feb. 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to experience the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.
For the next three weeks, the account operated by a simple rule: Follow all the recommendations generated by Facebook’s algorithms to join groups, watch videos and explore new pages on the site.
The result was an inundation of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report published later that month.
bots and fake accounts tied to the country’s ruling party and opposition figures were wreaking havoc on national elections. They also detail how a plan championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to focus on “meaningful social interactions,” or exchanges between friends and family, was leading to more misinformation in India, particularly during the pandemic.
a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it implemented a special policy to remove praise and support of violence in the country, and later banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.
In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to violence-inducing and hateful content. In Ethiopia, a nationalist youth militia group successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inflammatory content.
Facebook has invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Mr. Stone said. He added that Facebook reduced the amount of hate speech that people see globally by half this year.
suicide bombing in the disputed border region of Kashmir set off a round of violence and a spike in accusations, misinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.
After the attack, anti-Pakistan content began to circulate in the Facebook-recommended groups that the researcher had joined. Many of the groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. A different report by Facebook, published in December 2019, found Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s median group size at 140,000 members.
Graphic posts, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated in the groups she joined.
After the researcher shared her case study with co-workers, her colleagues commented on the posted report that they were concerned about misinformation about the upcoming elections in India.
Two months later, after India’s national elections had begun, Facebook put in place a series of steps to stem the flow of misinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document called Indian Election Case Study.
The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including adding more fact-checking partners — the third-party network of outlets with which Facebook works to outsource fact-checking — and increasing the amount of misinformation it removed. It also noted how Facebook had created a “political white list to limit P.R. risk,” essentially a list of politicians who received a special exemption from fact-checking.
The study did not note the immense problem the company faced with bots in India, nor issues like voter suppression. During the election, Facebook saw a spike in bots — or fake accounts — linked to various political groups, as well as efforts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.
In a separate report produced after the elections, Facebook found that over 40 percent of top views, or impressions, in the Indian state of West Bengal were “fake/inauthentic.” One inauthentic account had amassed more than 30 million impressions.
A report published in March 2021 showed that many of the problems cited during the 2019 elections persisted.
In the internal document, called Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study, Facebook researchers wrote that there were groups and pages “replete with inflammatory and misleading anti-Muslim content” on Facebook.
The report said there were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to “pigs” and “dogs,” and misinformation claiming that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, calls for men to rape their female family members.
Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing and nationalist group with close ties to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. The groups took issue with an expanding Muslim minority population in West Bengal and near the Pakistani border, and published posts on Facebook calling for the ouster of Muslim populations from India and promoting a Muslim population control law.
Facebook knew that such harmful posts proliferated on its platform, the report indicated, and it needed to improve its “classifiers,” which are automated systems that can detect and remove posts containing violent and inciting language. Facebook also hesitated to designate R.S.S. as a dangerous organization because of “political sensitivities” that could affect the social network’s operation in the country.
Of India’s 22 officially recognized languages, Facebook said it has trained its A.I. systems on five. (It said it had human reviewers for some others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, it still did not have enough data to adequately police the content, and much of the content targeting Muslims “is never flagged or actioned,” the Facebook report said.
Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to efficiently remove hate speech against Muslims. Another company report detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group linked with the B.J.P., to publish posts containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.
Facebook is considering designating the group as a dangerous organization because it is “inciting religious violence” on the platform, the document showed. But it has not yet done so.
“Join the group and help to run the group; increase the number of members of the group, friends,” said one post seeking recruits on Facebook to spread Bajrang Dal’s messages. “Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed.”
Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac contributed reporting.
1. From Wednesday through Saturday there was a lot of content circulating which implied fraud in the election, at around 10% of all civic content and 1-2% of all US VPVs. There was also a fringe of incitement to violence.
2. There were dozens of employees monitoring this, and FB launched ~15 measures prior to the election, and another ~15 in the days afterwards. Most of the measures made existings processes more aggressive: e.g. by lowering thresholds, by making penalties more severe, or expanding eligibility for existing measures. Some measures were qualitative: reclassifying certain types of content as violating, which had not been before.
3. I would guess these measures reduced prevalence of violating content by at least 2X. However they had collateral damage (removing and demoting non-violating content), and the episode caused noticeable resentment by Republican Facebook users who feel they are being unfairly targeted.
BERLIN — They promised they would “hunt” the elites. They questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and described Muslim immigrants as “head scarf girls” and “knife men.”
Four years ago the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, arrived in the German Parliament like a wrecking ball, the first far-right party to win a place at the heart of Germany’s democracy since World War II. It was a political earthquake in a country that had once seen Hitler’s Nazi party rise from the fringes to win power in free elections.
Founded eight years ago as nationalist free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, the AfD has sharply shifted to the right.
The party seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany in 2015 and 2016, actively fanning fears of Islamization and migrant crime. Its noisy nationalism and anti-immigrant stance were what first catapulted it into Parliament and instantly turned it into Germany’s main opposition party.
But the party has struggled to expand its early gains during the past 18 months, as the pandemic and, more recently, climate change have shot to the top of the list of voters’ concerns — while its core issue of immigration has barely featured in this year’s election campaign.
The AfD has tried to jump on the chaos in Afghanistan to fan fears of a new migrant crisis. “Cologne, Kassel or Konstanz can’t cope with more Kabul,” one of the party’s campaign posters asserted. “Save the world? Sure. But Germany first!” another read.
At a recent election rally north of Frankfurt, Mr. Chrupalla demanded that lawmakers “abolish” the constitutional right to asylum. He also told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany should be prepared to protect its borders, “if need be with armed force.”
None of this rhetoric has shifted the race, particularly because voters seem to have more fundamental concerns about the party’s aura of extremism. Some AfD leaders have marched with extremists in the streets, while among the party’s supporters are an eclectic array of conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.
shot dead on his front porch by a well-known neo-Nazi. The killer later told the court that he had attended a high-profile AfD protest a year earlier.
Since then, a far-right extremist has attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle during a Yom Kippur service, leaving two dead and only narrowly failing to commit a massacre. Another extremist shot dead 9 mostly young people with immigrant roots in the western city of Hanau.
The AfD’s earlier rise in the polls stalled almost instantly after the Hanau attack.
“After these three attacks, the wider German public and media realized for the first time that the rhetoric of the AfD leads to real violence,” said Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who has written extensively about the party and tracks its evolution.
“It was a turning point,” he said. “They have come to personify the notion that words lead to deeds.”
Shortly after the Hanau attack, Thomas Haldenwang, the chief of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, placed elements of the AfD under surveillance for far-right extremism — even as the party’s lawmakers continued to work in Parliament.
“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” Mr. Haldenwang warned after announcing his decision in March last year. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”
Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.
“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”
Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”
A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.
That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.
“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”
Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.
Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.
“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.
That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.
“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”
Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.
“Reach leaderboard isn’t a total win from a comms point of view,” Mr. Silverman wrote.
Mr. Schultz, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, had the dimmest view of CrowdTangle. He wrote that he thought “the only way to avoid stories like this” would be for Facebook to publish its own reports about the most popular content on its platform, rather than releasing data through CrowdTangle.
“If we go down the route of just offering more self-service data you will get different, exciting, negative stories in my opinion,” he wrote.
Mr. Osborne, the Facebook spokesman, said Mr. Schultz and the other executives were discussing how to correct misrepresentations of CrowdTangle data, not strategizing about killing off the tool.
A few days after the election in November, Mr. Schultz wrote a post for the company blog, called “What Do People Actually See on Facebook in the U.S.?” He explained that if you ranked Facebook posts based on which got the most reach, rather than the most engagement — his preferred method of slicing the data — you’d end up with a more mainstream, less sharply partisan list of sources.
“We believe this paints a more complete picture than the CrowdTangle data alone,” he wrote.
That may be true, but there’s a problem with reach data: Most of it is inaccessible and can’t be vetted or fact-checked by outsiders. We simply have to trust that Facebook’s own, private data tells a story that’s very different from the data it shares with the public.
Mr. Zuckerberg is right about one thing: Facebook is not a giant right-wing echo chamber.
But it does contain a giant right-wing echo chamber — a kind of AM talk radio built into the heart of Facebook’s news ecosystem, with a hyper-engaged audience of loyal partisans who love liking, sharing and clicking on posts from right-wing pages, many of which have gotten good at serving up Facebook-optimized outrage bait at a consistent clip.
CrowdTangle’s data made this echo chamber easier for outsiders to see and quantify. But it didn’t create it, or give it the tools it needed to grow — Facebook did — and blaming a data tool for these revelations makes no more sense than blaming a thermometer for bad weather.
Last Wednesday, a message appeared in a new WhatsApp channel called “Death to the Arabs.” The message urged Israelis to join a mass street brawl against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Within hours, dozens of other new WhatsApp groups popped up with variations of the same name and message. The groups soon organized a 6 p.m. start time for a clash in Bat Yam, a town on Israel’s coast.
“Together we organize and together we act,” read a message in one of the WhatsApp groups. “Tell your friends to join the group, because here we know how to defend Jewish honor.”
That evening, live scenes aired of black-clad Israelis smashing car windows and roaming the streets of Bat Yam. The mob pulled one man they presumed to be Arab from his car and beat him unconscious. He was hospitalized in serious condition.
violence between Israelis and Palestinians escalated last week, at least 100 new WhatsApp groups have been formed for the express purpose of committing violence against Palestinians, according to an analysis by The New York Times and FakeReporter, an Israeli watchdog group that studies misinformation.
The WhatsApp groups, with names like “The Jewish Guard” and “The Revenge Troops,” have added hundreds of new members a day over the past week, according to The Times’s analysis. The groups, which are in Hebrew, have also been featured on email lists and online message boards used by far-right extremists in Israel.
While social media and messaging apps have been used in the past to spread hate speech and inspire violence, these WhatsApp groups go further, researchers said. That’s because the groups are explicitly planning and executing violent acts against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up roughly 20 percent of the population and live largely integrated lives with Jewish neighbors.
That is far more specific than past WhatsApp-fueled mob attacks in India, where calls for violence were vague and generally not targeted at individuals or businesses, the researchers said. Even the Stop the Steal groups in the United States that organized the Jan. 6 protests in Washington did not openly direct attacks using social media or messaging apps, they said.
The proliferation of these WhatsApp groups has alarmed Israeli security officials and disinformation researchers. In the groups, attacks have been carefully documented, with members often gloating about taking part in the violence, according to The Times’s review. Some said they were taking revenge for rockets being fired onto Israel from militants in the Gaza Strip, while others cited different grievances. Many solicited names of Arab-owned businesses they could target next.
do not plan attacks on the services for fear of being discovered.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A WhatsApp spokeswoman said the messaging service was concerned by the activity from Israeli extremists. She said the company had removed some accounts of people who participated in the groups. WhatsApp cannot read the encrypted messages on its service, she added, but it has acted when accounts were reported to it for violating its terms of service.
“We take action to ban accounts we believe may be involved in causing imminent harm,” she said.
In Israel, WhatsApp has long been used to form groups so people can communicate and share interests or plan school activities. As violence soared between Israel’s military and Palestinian militants in Gaza over the past week, WhatsApp was also one of the platforms where false information about the conflict has spread.
Tensions in the area ran so high that new groups calling for revenge against Palestinians began emerging on WhatsApp and on other messaging services like Telegram. The first WhatsApp groups appeared last Tuesday, Mr. Schatz said. By last Wednesday, his organization had found dozens of the groups.
People can join the groups through a link, many of which are shared within existing WhatsApp groups. Once they have joined one group, other groups are advertised to them.
The groups have since grown steadily in size, Mr. Schatz said. Some have become so big that they have branched off into local chapters that are dedicated to certain cities and towns. To evade detection by WhatsApp, organizers of the groups are urging people to vet new members, he said.
On Telegram, Israelis have formed roughly 20 channels to commit and plan violence against Palestinians, according to FakeReporter. Much of the content and messaging in those groups imitates what is in the WhatsApp channels.
On one new WhatsApp group that The Times reviewed, “The Revenge Troops,” people recently shared instructions for how to build Molotov cocktails and makeshift explosives. The group asked its 400 members to also provide addresses of Arab-owned businesses that could be targeted.
In another group with just under 100 members, people shared photos of guns, knives and other weapons as they discussed engaging in street combat in mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Another new WhatsApp group was named “The unapologetic right-wing group.”
After participating in attacks, members of the groups posted photos of their exploits and encouraged others to mimic them.
“We destroyed them, we left them in pieces,” said one person in “The Revenge Troops” WhatsApp group, alongside a photo showing smashed car windows. In a different group, a video was uploaded of black-clad Jewish youths stopping cars on an unnamed street and asking drivers if they were Jewish or Arab.
We beat “the enemy car-by-car,” said a comment posted underneath the video, using an expletive.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel visited Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel that has been the scene of recent clashes.
“There is no greater threat now than these riots, and it is essential to bring back law and order,” said Mr. Netanyahu.
Within some of the WhatsApp groups, Mr. Netanyahu’s calls for peace were ridiculed.
“Our government is too weak to do what is necessary, so we take it into our own hands,” wrote one person in a WhatsApp group dedicated to city of Ramle in central Israel. “Now that we have organized, they can’t stop us.”
LA TRINITÉ-SUR-MER, France — It was the setting for a straightforward origin story, or so it seemed. Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader aiming to be France’s next president, came to launch her latest campaign in the seaside resort where her firebrand father once announced his own bid for the presidency from the family home.
But the recent trip to the family base at La Trinité-sur-Mer in western France, where Ms. Le Pen posed for selfies with admirers, schmoozed with oystermen and took TV journalists on boat rides, was a critical part of a rebranding effort toward respectability.
Steering the motorboat was Florent de Kersauson, a prominent businessman who, after decades of backing center-right candidates, was switching to Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally. By embracing Mr. de Kersauson, a former senior executive at the telecommunications giant Alcatel, Ms. Le Pen latched on to the kind of establishment figure who could help persuade voters that her party was more than a scrappy, family business. And maybe even assuage doubts about her competence to move into the Élysée Palace.
“The National Rally, formerly the National Front, has gone from being a protest movement to an opposition movement, and is now a government movement,” Ms. Le Pen said.
poor campaign that was marred by an incoherent message and punctuated by a disastrous debate against Mr. Macron.
un-demonize” her party, which has long been associated with the anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Holocaust denialism and colonial nostalgia of Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father and the party’s founder.
Part of that has been an effort to humanize her. A flurry of recent news reports revealed that she loved cats so much she had become a certified breeder, specializing in Bengals and Somalis. The photos of her posing with the cuddly felines were visual evidence that the party no longer belonged to her father, known for his fondness of menacing Dobermans.
general national decline, Mr. Lebourg said.
Mr. Macron has also been bogged down in a series of crises, including the Yellow Vest movement. Attacks in recent months have also heightened fears of terrorism and accelerated Mr. Macron’s shift to the right to fend off Ms. Le Pen.
“I think I can win,” Ms. Le Pen said in an hourlong interview inside her office at the National Assembly in Paris, where copies of “The Philosopher Cat,” an illustrated volume of feline-themed aphorisms, and a blue binder marked “immigration” and “security” lay on her desk.
local governments that her party controls, mostly in depressed areas in the north and south of France.
In La Trinité-sur-Mer, she introduced Mr. de Kersauson, the former Alcatel executive, as the head of her party’s ticket in next month’s regional elections. Getting more defectors from the center-right — who are financially better off than the National Rally’s traditional backers, but who are also feeling unsettled by the social changes rippling through France — is one key to victory next year.
reported — killed one of her cats.
Ms. Le Pen said that dog was gentle, as had been her father’s Dobermans. “We shouldn’t indulge in caricatures,” she said. “Dobermans have a vicious image, but, in fact, they’re very gentle dogs.”
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel failed to form a new government by the midnight Tuesday deadline, putting his political future in jeopardy as he stands trial on corruption charges and prolonging a political deadlock that has only worsened after four elections in two years.
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, may now give a rival, eclectic camp of anti-Netanyahu parties a chance to form a government, which could oust Mr. Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years in office.
Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is by far the largest on Israel’s fractured political scene, having won 30 seats in a general election in March. Despite that, he was not able to muster enough coalition partners to command a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Parliament.
His hopes for a right-wing and religious coalition ultimately fell short because his far-right allies refused to join a government supported by a small Islamist Arab party. The Arab party, Raam, was willing to back a Netanyahu administration in return for benefits for Israel’s Arab minority.
failed in a last-gasp effort to persuade a right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, to join him in a power-sharing agreement that would have seen the pair take turns as prime minister.
Mr. Bennett had dismissed the offer, saying that even with his support Mr. Netanyahu could not muster a majority.
Three minutes before midnight, Likud issued a terse statement blaming Mr. Bennett for foiling Mr. Netanyahu’s chances by refusing to commit to a right-wing government, “which would certainly have led to the formation of a government joined by additional members of Parliament.”
Mr. Rivlin may now ask one of Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals — representing a disparate group of parties ranging from the pro-settlement right to the secular left — to try to cobble together a governing coalition that would send the prime minister into the opposition. Or Mr. Rivlin could ask Parliament to put forward a candidate.
He has three days to make that decision. His office said that he would restart the process on Wednesday morning by contacting each of the political parties represented in Parliament.
bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he has denied wrongdoing and insists the cases against him will collapse in court.
a political stalemate that has left Israel without a state budget for two consecutive years in the middle of a pandemic, and has delayed appointments to several key administrative and judicial posts.
The largest party challenging Likud, and the runner-up in the election, is Yesh Atid, a centrist group that won 17 seats. But its leader, Yair Lapid, a former finance minister, does not have an easy path to forming a government either.
The bloc opposing Mr. Netanyahu is made up of numerous other small parties with clashing agendas. The smaller right-wing parties in the bloc view Mr. Lapid as too left-wing to lead the government.
pledged during the election campaign to put his ego aside and concede the premiership if that was what it took to unseat Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
collapsed after seven months of political and administrative paralysis.
Some analysts say that Mr. Netanyahu, a political survivor, is happy to function as a caretaker prime minister, riding the wave of electoral turmoil from one transitional government to another, as long as he remains in office. And if the latest imbroglio ends in a fifth election, he is likely to run again.
BERLIN — Germany’s domestic intelligence service said on Wednesday that it would surveil members of the increasingly aggressive coronavirus denier movement because they posed a risk of undermining the state.
The movement — fueled in part by wild conspiracy theories — has grown from criticizing coronavirus lockdown measures and hygiene rules to targeting the state itself, its leaders, businesses, the press and globalism, to name a few. Over the past year, demonstrators have attacked police officers, defied civil authorities and in one widely publicized episode scaled the steps of Parliament.
“Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement confirming that parts of the denier movement were under observation. The Interior Ministry oversees the intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
In announcing the decision to keep tabs on conspiracy theorists, intelligence officials noted the movement’s close ties to extremists like the Reichsbürger, who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state.
QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes.
The movement, called Querdenken, German for lateral thinking, communicates and recruits over social media and has a large presence on the encrypted chat service Telegram, where its main channel has 65,000 subscribers. Parts of AfD, a German right-wing populist party that is also under surveillance, have allied themselves with protesters.
Still, the Interior Ministry took pains to say that the danger from coronavirus deniers and conspiracy theorists does not fit the mold posed by the usual, politically driven groups, including those on the far left and right, or by Islamic extremists. As a result, the authorities are setting up a new department specifically tasked with handling cases that seek to delegitimize the state.
The news comes days after Germany instituted new virus rules that apply nationwide and allow the federal government to enforce lockdowns. (Such regulation had previously been in the hands of the country’s 16 states.) It also suggests that the authorities believe coronavirus denier groups could continue to flourish and pose a threat after the pandemic ends.
Germany has seen a persistently high number of new daily cases recently, averaging about 19,000, up from about 8,000 two months ago.
Last August, when restrictions were relatively light, the deniers drew 40,000 protesters to Berlin. While most were peaceful, even if eschewing masks and social distancing measures, a small number managed to jump police lines and climb Parliament’s outside stairs, a breach of security that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier characterized as an “attack on the heart of democracy.”
The national intelligence agency’s formal observation of the deniers’ group is the first step in a process that could lead to it being declared unconstitutional and ultimately banned.
Pia Lamberty, a psychologist and expert in the German conspiracy scene, warned of connections between the deniers and far-right extremists. “The danger of Querdenken,” she said, “has long been underestimated.”
The German domestic intelligence agency is keeping close tabs on a group of coronavirus deniers, who, in their protests against restrictions and tendency to believe in conspiracy theories, have found common cause with far-right extremists.
Government officials said the movement’s close ties to extremist organizations, such as the “Reich citizens” — or “Reichsbürger,” as they are known in German, referring to a group that refuses to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state — were troubling. Many of the coronavirus deniers say they also believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes. A number of journalists have been attacked while covering the demonstrations.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a statement, “Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.” Several regional intelligence agencies have already been observing participants in the movement, he added.
The group of deniers, which started as a fringe movement last spring, has grown into a coordinated effort that organizes mass demonstrations across Germany. The rallies occasionally turn aggressive, and many have ended in scuffles with law enforcement officers.
AfD, a German right-wing populist party, have allied themselves with protesters. The national intelligence agency’s formal observation of the deniers’ group is the first step in a procedure that could lead to it being declared anti-constitutional and ultimately banned.
A week ago, about 8,000 people in Berlin protested the passing of a law that gives the federal government power to implement tougher restrictions. Germany has seen a persistently high average number of new daily cases recently, averaging about 18,000 a day, according to a New York Times database, up from about 8,000 a day two months ago.
Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a podcaster who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, recently railed against mask mandates to her 4,000 fans in a live broadcast and encouraged them to enter stores maskless. On another day, she grew emotional while thanking them for sending her $84,000.
Millie Weaver, a former correspondent for the conspiracy theory website Infowars, speculated on her channel that coronavirus vaccines could be used to surveil people. Later, she plugged her merchandise store, where she sells $30 “Drain the Swamp” T-shirts and hats promoting conspiracies.
And a podcaster who goes by Zak Paine or Redpill78, who pushes the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, urged his viewers to donate to the congressional campaign of an Ohio man who has said he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6.
Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms clamped down on misinformation and hate speech ahead of the 2020 election.
apps like Google Podcasts, where far-right influencers have scattered as their options for spreading falsehoods have dwindled.
Twitch became a multibillion-dollar business thanks to video gamers broadcasting their play of games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Fans, many of whom are young men, pay the gamers by subscribing to their channels or donating money. Streamers earn even more by sending their fans to outside sites to either buy merchandise or donate money.
Now Twitch has also become a place where right-wing personalities spread election and vaccine conspiracy theories, often without playing any video games. It is part of a shift at the platform, where streamers have branched out from games into fitness, cooking, fishing and other lifestyle topics in recent years.
But unlike fringe livestreaming sites like Dlive and Trovo, which have also offered far-right personalities moneymaking opportunities, Twitch attracts far larger audiences. On average, 30 million people visit the site each day, the platform said.
stricter rules than other social media platforms for the kinds of views that users can express. It temporarily suspended Mr. Trump’s account for “hateful conduct” last summer, months before Facebook and Twitter made similar moves. Its community guidelines prohibit hateful conduct and harassment. Ms. Clemens said Twitch was developing a misinformation policy.
This month, Twitch announced a policy that would allow it to suspend the accounts of people who committed crimes or severe offenses in real life or on other social media platforms, including violent extremism or membership in a known hate group. Twitch said it did not consider QAnon to be a hate group.
Despite all this, a Twitch channel belonging to Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist organization, remained online until the middle of this month after The New York Times inquired about it. And the white nationalist Anthime Joseph Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, had a Twitch channel for months, even though he was arrested in January by the F.B.I. and accused of illegally storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Twitch initially said his activities had not violated the platform’s policies, then barred him this month for hateful conduct.
has said is dangerous. Last week, he referred to a QAnon belief that people are killing children to “harvest” a chemical compound from them, then talked about a “criminal cabal” controlling the government, saying people do not understand “what plane of existence they come from.”
Mr. Paine, who is barred from Twitter and YouTube, has also asked his Twitch audience to donate to the House campaign of J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran in Toledo, Ohio, who attracted attention last year for painting his lawn to look like a Trump campaign banner. Mr. Majewski has used QAnon hashtags but distanced himself from the movement in an interview with his local newspaper, The Toledo Blade.
Mr. Majewski has appeared on Mr. Paine’s streams, where they vape, chat about Mr. Majewski’s campaign goals and take calls from listeners.
“He is exactly the type of person that we need to get in Washington, D.C., so that we can supplant these evil cabal criminal actors and actually run our own country,” Mr. Paine said on one stream.
Neither Mr. Paine nor Mr. Majewski responded to a request for comment.
Joan Donovan, a Harvard University researcher who studies disinformation and online extremism, said streamers who rely on their audience’s generosity to fund themselves felt pressured to continue raising the stakes.
“The incentive to lie, cheat, steal, hoax and scam is very high when the cash is easy to acquire,” she said.