Russian Bots? German Authorities Have been Operating Hundreds of Fake Far-Right Social Media Accounts

INDIA - 2022/09/15: In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo seen displayed on an android smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The German federal state is operating hundreds of fake far-right social media accounts online, a mainstream newspaper in the country has revealed.

Hundreds of fake social media accounts espousing far-right ideology on platforms such as Twitter, Telegram, Instagram and Gettr are being operated by the German Federal State, a report by a major mainstream newspaper in the country has revealed.

It is not the first time governments have been found to be behind shadowy extremists accounts online, with America’s FBI coming under fire earlier this year after one of its fake accounts was found to have been allegedly involved in the creation of a plot to kidnap the Democratic Party governor for Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

According to the report by Süddeutsche Zeitung, — one of Germany’s largest newspapers — Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been operating hundreds of accounts espousing extremist views for the purpose of infiltrating groups of interest to government officials.

The federal office has reportedly been paying civil servants to operate accounts posing as radicals on the left and right as well as the likes of radical Islamic extremists, anti-vaccination activists and so-called “Reich Citizens” — a term used to describe people who question or reject the legitimacy of the German Republic.

At least some of these fake accounts are involved in actively promoting the ideologies they are linked with, with one agent telling a reporter that it is important to “feed this bubble” of extremist ideology in order to gain the trust of targetted activists, some of whom are reported as being “neo-nazis”.

Those behind the accounts have also reportedly been granted permission to break laws in the operation of these accounts, with the journalist behind the report, Ron Steinke, saying that: “many people who are victims of right-wing online hate speech would probably be amazed if they knew what is now being posted and liked on behalf of the state.”

Along with employing people to operate the social media accounts, the German Federal government has employed psychologists as part of the project, who are tasked with both helping those operating the accounts to deal with the stress of their occupation, as well as to sniff out if one of the civil servants is themselves being radicalised.

Steinke describes one senior official involved in the operation as saying that it is important to make sure that those operating the fake accounts are “staying straight”, and not actually becoming a part of the extremist groups they are infiltrating.

While a senior official reportedly admitted that “[n]ot everyone” is able to learn the skill of going undercover as an extremist “without becoming part of that scene”, they reportedly refused to give any inclination as to exactly how many government spies end up becoming radicalised by their work.

The German Federal government is not the only national authority involved in the operation of fake extremist accounts, with federal agencies in the United States also frequently being accused of promoting hardline ideologies as part of its attempt at infiltrating radical groups.

Such accusations hit the mainstream earlier this year, after it was found that FBI informants played an active role in a plot surrounding the planned kidnapping of Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic Party governor for Michigan.

According to a Buzzfeed investigation into the alleged terror plot, informants working under the direction of the federal body played an active role “in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception”.

“A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say,” the publication claimed. “The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come.”

Another informant even reportedly rose to become the second-in-command of the extremist group planning the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, in Germany, authorities at the state level are also said to be involved in the operation of fake accounts, with local offices in areas ranging “from Bavaria to Schleswig-Holstein” described as relying on fake accounts to infiltrate right-wing groups in particular.

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