A variety of German media recently reported about a social media campaign by right-wing activists that targeted Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz during the German elections. The campaign used specific hashtags, such as #NichtmeineKanzlerin (not my Chancellor) and #verräterduell (traitor duel), at key moments during the run-up to the elections on 24 September.
But these accounts have just become extremely active once again. Shortly before the SPD’s members began voting on whether to enter a new coalition with the CDU, the accounts began to send tweets with greater frequency, indicating that this campaign is more massive than that discovered during the elections. The daily tweets sent by the accounts is now nearly five times higher than in September 2017. For comparison, these accounts sent 256,000 tweets during the entire year of 2017, and in this year alone they have already sent 465,000 tweets.
44% of the accounts mainly retweet other accounts, thereby creating the impression of shared public sentiment around specific issues. Some accounts have tweeted more than 400 times per day, and are likely automated social bots, which Twitter has recently said it would ban. The main themes of the tweets are the AfD, the SPD, Angela Merkel and the question of another grand coalition.
It is apparent that the large increase in tweets is related to the SPD’s vote on whether to re-enter a coalition government with Merkel’s CDU. Right-wing activists are interested in stopping the coalition, creating the impression of a state in crisis, and splitting and weakening the SPD. From a democratic point of view, it is not problematic for citizens to be against another grand coalition. But citizens should view the debate on Twitter with some scepticism: Who is speaking? With what objective? And to whom? Twitter should review suspicious accounts and close them immediately so that public debate is not distorted.
Data collection and methods
We identified 3,760 Twitter accounts during the federal election that used the hashtags #NichtmeineKanzlerin and #verräterduell before Angela Merkel’s debate with Martin Schulz and her appearance on the Wahlarena. Other journalists have since reported that these social media campaigns were controlled by far-right groups. For this study, we examined the accounts of 2,163 German language Twitter accounts and retrieved 740,296 tweets from their timelines. We analysed the daily frequency of tweets and the most prominent hashtags the accounts used.
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