The Battle for Bavaria: Online information campaigns in the 2018 Bavarian State Election

INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC DIALOGUE, FEBRUARY 2019

A combination of social media analysis, network mapping and investigative reporting carried out by ISD’s Digital Research Unit found that far-right conspiracy and misinformation networks used a suite of new and existing platforms to mobilise and coordinate election-related activities online and offline in the lead up to the Bavarian State elections in Germany in 2018.

The report also revealed that new transnational far-right communities are emerging in Europe and were actively spreading disinformation in tandem with transatlantic allies during the Bavarian State election. Despite evidence of foreign state interference in previous elections, the report found little identifiable Russian state activity in the Bavarian elections.

The report exposes the need for new norms in political campaigning in the age of social media. Shorter-term recommendations call for a combination of research and exposure of malign influence operations, improved advertising transparency and systematic enforcement of existing policies and commitments by the tech companies, which it suggests will be vital in order to mitigate the potential derailing of the forthcoming EU parliamentary elections.

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The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right

This report presents the findings of a research project of ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit about the alternative online-ecosystem of the far-right, including alternative social media platforms and alternative media outlets. While these platforms draw in a global audience this report focuses specifically on the German speaking and Germany-focused communities and outlets within this ecosystem. Drawing together ISD’s digital ethnographic work across dozens of forums and channels with the latest in machine learning and natural language processing, this report provides an overview over the size and nature of the far-right communities on these platforms the motivations for participating in these communities and assesses whether banning far-right groups from mainstream platforms leads to the displacement of their followers to ‘alternative’ platforms. We also analyse the role of alternative ‘news’ outlets in disseminating far right concepts, drawing on the‘Hate Observatory’, a joint initiative of ISD and the MIT Media Lab , based on their Media Cloud software, and compare the frequency and types of coverage of far-right themes in mainstream and alternative media. This report also recommends steps to be taken by tech companies, government, civil society and researchers to counter the far-right online.