Facebook shut down the Advance New Zealand conspiracy political party page on Thursday two days before the general election, accusing it of spreading false information about the coronavirus.
“We do not allow anyone to share false information about Covid-19 on our platforms that could lead to imminent physical injury,” a spokesperson for the social media giant told AFP.
The action prompted party co-leader Billy Te Kahika – who has racked up huge success using the online platform – to accuse Facebook of interfering in the upcoming vote.
“Facebook has now officially interfered with the 2020 New Zealand elections,” Te Kahika said in a live video posted to his personal Facebook page shortly after the withdrawal.
“They did it in the middle of a show and it’s amazing guys. It’s amazing… they actually carried out the threat.”
Facebook’s action against a registered political party in the middle of an election campaign is unprecedented in New Zealand.
It comes as society shows an increased willingness to act against deceptive political claims, fake accounts pushing partisan agendas, and hate speech such as Holocaust denial.
The company recently banned a politician from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP on charges of hate speech, and on Thursday blocked links to a New York Post article purporting to expose corrupt dealings by U.S. Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Facebook said it would enforce its policies on coronavirus disinformation “regardless of political position or party affiliation.”
“We have removed the Advance New Zealand / New Zealand Public Party Facebook page for repeated violations” of disinformation policies, he said.
– Bluesman turned politician –
Te Kahika, a former blues musician, is coming to Parliament after his social media posts claiming that Covid-19 is bogus and part of a plot to enslave people has become extremely popular in New Zealand.
Between late June and early October, Advance NZ’s Facebook page generated more than 5.3 million views, according to data from social media tracker CrowdTangle.
These are startling numbers for a political newcomer to a country of just five million people.
Advance NZ’s pageviews exceed 2.8 million for New Zealand’s main opposition party and 5.2 million for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labor Party during the same period.
Advance NZ’s Facebook posts also generated significantly more activity than those of the two main parties.
Advance NZ posts have been shared 148,000 times, compared to less than 110,000 gathered for major parties, according to data from CrowdTangle.
AFP auditors refuted two of his party’s most popular claims: the government allowed the military to enter private residences and provided for forced vaccinations.
The latter claim was made in a campaign video that selectively edited statements by lawmakers, leading Parliament’s Privileges Committee to condemn the “blatant treatment” of the footage and demand that it be removed.
The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority on Thursday ordered the party to withdraw flyers making similar claims, calling them “misleading and irresponsible”.
Te Kahika accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is set to win Saturday’s election largely thanks to her government’s success against the coronavirus, of being behind Facebook’s decision to remove the page.
“It’s not North Korea, it’s not China, but the way this government is behaving, you think,” he said.
Te Kahika supporters have expressed their outrage online.
“They did this to Trump, you are both a threat to the establishment,” one commented, while another said “the more they fight you the more credible they make you.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)