One in three online press articles about the upcoming Swedish elections come from websites that publish deliberately misleading information, most with a right-wing focus on immigration and Islam, say researchers at the University of Oxford.
His study, published on Thursday, points to widespread online misinformation in the final stages of a hotly contested campaign that could mark a jolt to the right in one of Europe's most prominent liberal democracies.
The authors, from the Oxford Internet Institute, labeled certain websites "junk news" based on a range of detailed criteria. Reuters discovered that the three most popular sites they identified have employed former members of Sweden's Democratic Party; One has a former deputy included among his staff.
It was not clear if the exchange of & # 39; junk news & # 39; It had affected voting intentions in Sweden, but the study helps show the impact that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have on elections and how national or foreign groups can use them to exacerbate social sensitivities and political problems.
A researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project of the Oxford Internet Institute said that most of the "junk news" in Sweden supported right-wing policies.
The top three sites of & # 39; junk news & # 39; identified by the study – Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider – accounted for more than 85 percent of the content of & # 39; junk news & # 39;
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose center-left social democrats have dominated politics since 1914 but is now unlikely to secure a ruling majority, told Reuters that spreading false or distorted information online risked shaking "the foundations of democracy "if it was not controlled.
The Institute, a department of the University of Oxford, analyzed 275,000 tweets about the Swedish elections for a 10-day period in August. He shared articles from websites that he identified as "junk news" sources, defined as points of sale that "deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information that claims to be real news".
"In general, for every two shared professional content articles, a junk news article was shared, so junk news was an important part of the conversation surrounding the Swedish general election," he said.
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the results of the study.
Facebook, where user interactions are harder to track, said it was working with Swedish officials to help voters detect misinformation. It also partnered with Viralgranskaren, an arm of the Swedish newspaper Metro, to identify, debase and counter the "false news" on its site.
Joakim Wallerstein, head of communications for the Swedish Democrats, said he had no knowledge or interest in the partisan sympathies of the media. When asked to comment on his party's relationship with the sites identified by the study, he said he had been interviewed by one of them once.
"I think it's strange that a foreign institute is trying to label several media outlets in Sweden as' junk news' and publish a report of this kind in relation to an election, 'he said.
& # 39; DECEPTIVE TOOLS & # 39;
Swedish security officials say there is currently no evidence of a coordinated online attempt by foreign powers to influence the September 9 vote, despite repeated government warnings about the threat.
But Mikael Tofvesson, head of the counterintelligence team at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), a government agency tasked with safeguarding elections, said the widespread exchange of false or distorted information makes countries more vulnerable to fraud operations. hostile influence.
"Incorrect and biased reports promote a harsher and more severe tone in the debate, which facilitates misinformation and other deceptive tools," he said.
Lisa-Maria Neudert, researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project of the Oxford Internet Institute, said that most of the "junk news" in Sweden supported right-wing policies, and focused mainly on issues related to immigration and Islam.
The three main sources of & # 39; junk news & # 39; identified by the study – the right-wing websites Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider – accounted for more than 85 percent of the content of & # 39; junk news & # 39 ;.
Twitter accounts & # 39; Bot & # 39; they shared Fria Tider articles more often than real people
Samhallsnytt received donations through the personal bank account of a Swedish Democratic member between 2011-2013 when he operated under the name of Avpixlat. A former member of Sweden's Democratic Parliament, who also previously headed the youth wing of the party, is listed on the Samhallsnytt website as a columnist.
Samhallsnytt often publishes articles that say that Sweden is under the threat of Islam. In June, for example, he said that a youth soccer tournament in the second largest city had banned the pig as "haram", or banned by Islamic law. The article is still in line with the headline: Islam is the new foundation of the Gothia Cup, the pig proclaimed & # 39; haram & # 39; & # 39;
A tournament organizer told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that catering companies had not served pork for more than 10 years for practical reasons, and that there was no ban on eating or selling pork at the event.
Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider did not respond to the repeated requests for comments.
Commenting before the Oxford study was published, Nyheter Idag's founder, Chang Frick, questioned the label of & # 39; junk news & # 39; and said that his website followed ethical journalistic practices, citing his membership in the body of the self-regulated Press Council of Sweden.
"Yes, we put our editorial perspective on the news, of course, like everyone else," he said. "If you're in a tabloid newspaper you can not have dry and boring headlines, it should have some strength." But they do not lie, we do not make false accusations. "
FACT CHECKERS AND BOTS
Social media companies have been under increasing pressure to address misinformation on their platforms following accusations that Russia and Iran tried to meddle in national politics in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Moscow and Tehran deny the accusations.
A report by the Swedish Defense Research Institute said last week that the number of automatic Twitter accounts discussing the upcoming elections almost doubled in July compared to the previous month. The so-called accounts & # 39; bot & # 39; they shared Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider items more often than real people, the report said, and were 40 percent more likely to express their support for Sweden's Democrats.
Facebook said that its work with Viralgranskaren to verify the content on its sites helped it quickly identify & # 39; fake news & # 39;
The company declined to give specific figures on the number or sources of false news it had registered during the Swedish elections, but said that any marked content has a lower position on its site, a practice known as "decline" that says cuts opinions by 80 percent. Users who see items in dispute also show other sources of verified information, he said.
In a blog post on his website, Twitter says that "he should not be the referee of the truth."
But Tofvesson, head of the MSB's counterintelligence team, said there had been a "positive increase" in the work of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help safeguard elections, mainly through better communication and coordination with the local authorities.