The Greens had already feared this at the start of the electoral campaign, and a study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue has now corroborated it: in the first half of the year alone, the Greens’ candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock was associated with conspiracy myths up to ten times more often than his rival Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU). It has also been called “danger to Germany” (green) up to 15 times more often. Unlike her colleagues, the party leader has also had to deal with sexual degradation and allegations of gender incompetence.
For the analysis between February and July, researchers at the think tank on inter-communal conflict, extremism and terrorism examined the 100 most shared posts about the candidates on the Facebook and Telegram channels, which they have already attributed to the extreme right-wing and conspiratorial milieu. . According to the results just released, the top three politicians have been the target of digital attacks in the context of the upcoming federal election. Potentially illegal content such as threats, insults, defamation and homophobic or anti-Semitic agitations were notably broadcast via Telegram.
Misinformation or allusions to conspiracies
The candidates share the fate of having been denigrated as part of the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the conspiracy “The Great Reset”. This is the claim that a global financial elite around the founder of the Davos World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, is leading a new world economic order in the shadow of the Corona crisis.
In Baerbock’s case, misinformation and allusions to this narrative can be found not only in the Telegram circles reviewed, but also among the most popular Facebook content on the Greens, with sometimes over 100,000 views. A dataset of the most shared posts about the respective politicians on Germany’s largest social network contained 18 posts about Baerbock disinformation or allusions to conspiracies. Only three of these items refer to Scholz, none to Laschet.
This trend was confirmed on Telegram according to the study. In the relevant data set analyzed, 43 messages contained false information about Baerbock or ideological conspiratorial narratives. 26 comparable articles concerned Laschet, 17 Scholz.
Gender reference or allusion to gender
A quarter of the posts in the Facebook dataset also dealt with Baerbock’s alleged incompetence, compared to six for Scholz and eleven for Laschet. In Telegram’s archives, 17 articles on the Greens contained a reference to this, with the SPD leader there were three, with the CDU candidates six. In some cases, Baerbock has added insults and sexist images such as “petite” or “the wet dream of all male followers of the ‘Friday for Absenteeism’ sect.”
Overall, almost a tenth of the articles reviewed contained a reference to either Baerbock’s genre or a general allusion to the genre. With Laschet and Scholz, there were hardly any comparable statements.
The researchers admit that, given the relatively small number of posts and comments included, there can be little assurance that “this is a representative sample”. Nonetheless, the analysis offers “interesting insights into the online discourse on Facebook” on the candidates, since the contributions examined are “not a random sample”.
Risks of digital violence and disinformation
Digital violence and disinformation pose “significant risks to the integrity of our democracy, especially in the run-up to an election,” the authors warn. Observed gender campaigns could ultimately lead to “the public receiving a distorted image of those affected”. This phenomenon of deliberate weakening of political candidates not only promotes misogynistic discourse, but also influences the possibilities of defining political subjects and therefore the success of political campaigns.
Baerbock polls fell significantly after peaking in the spring. The candidate was also concerned about omissions such as the late registration of additional compensation from her party and inconsistencies in her published resume. According to observers, the early reference to alleged nude photos of the 40-year-old on the internet gave a taste of manipulation.