Anti-propaganda portal: COVID-19 Facebook misinformation on the rise ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Protestors at an anti-face-mask rally in late November last year.
Protestors at an anti-face-mask rally in late November last year. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A proliferation of fake Facebook accounts have been spreading misinformation about the coronavirus on the social media pages of Estonia's major media publications, a volunteer anti-misinformation group says.

Anti-propaganda blog Propastop, which also has an English-language page, says that articles posted on the Facebook accounts of the main media sites in Estonia concerning the coronavirus tend to attract significantly higher numbers of comments than other articles, often stretching into the hundreds, compared with a couple of dozen in the case of other topics.

While coronavirus articles may often in any case attract more interest than those on other themes, Propastop says many of the Facebook accounts it has monitored which regularly comment on coronavirus pieces by portal Delfi, daily Postimees, and public broadcaster ERR, bear hallmarks of being fake accounts.

Propastop says a giveaway is account names which are evidently not the user's real name, small numbers of "friends", posts focused on one particular topic, as well as the nature of comments themselves, which may often represent misinformation about COVID-19.

In short, a fake account is any which does not clearly and intelligibly represent a real person and is either semi- or completely anonymous, i.e. it is not possible to verify who is behind the account based on the data presented in the account itself, Propastop says.

Delfi attracts by far the largest proportion of such comments, Propastop says, while ERR's page only sees a few, with Postimees somewhere in the middle.

Delfi is part of private media group Ekspress Meedia, while Postimees, as its name suggests, is part of the Postimees Group, the other major private media company operating in Estonia.

Postimees' Facebook page has the largest number of accounts following it, Propastop says, at around 163,000, compared with roughly 141,000 on Postimees' page. ERR's Facebook (the Estonian-language version, not ERR News in English – ed.) page is followed by around 19,000 accounts. The frequency of posting is also a factor, Propastop says – Postimees and Delfi doing so more often.

All three media outlets carry news in Estonian and Russian, including via Facebook pages. Delfi does not run news in English, Postimees has an English-language portal, though not Facebook page. ERR News in English has a Facebook page.

That this is an issue is mainly due to dangers that comments and commenters can influence regular readers in their attitude to the pandemic, Propastop says. This might include questioning the efficacy of face-masks, or the effectiveness of restrictions set up during the pandemic, or even the very existence of the virus.

Mass posting by large numbers of accounts can amplify the effect by setting up an echo-chamber, Propastop says.

Some comments Propastop quoted included claims of mass genocide, restrictions of human rights under the guise of public health, and claims that coronavirus vaccines in the process of being administered in Estonia are in fact harmful.

The original Propastop article is here.

Propastop is run and staffed by volunteers, principally members of the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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