A Berlin-based Israeli satirist says he and others have succeeded in using fake profiles to join, then take over, about three dozen Facebook pages that support the nationalist Alternative for Germany party.
Shahak Shapira, who calls himself "propaganda leader" of the satirical German political party "The Party," an ironic use of the Nazi party position of "Reichspropagandaleiter," told The Associated Press on Monday that he and others "infiltrated" the groups over 11 months.
The groups, which Shapira said seem to be run by bots, had been popping up in the run-up to Germany's Sept. 24 election, and he said they were "mostly used to spread AfD ads, fake news and sometimes hate speech."
"We're trying to show how people are being manipulated, not only to everyone else but also to the people who are being manipulated," he said. "Maybe there's something they can take away from it if you show them they're being fooled and not only fooled by humans but by algorithms."
AfD has been running largely on an anti-immigration platform and has lost popularity in recent months, though is still between about 8 and 10 percent in recent polls. The party did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the stunt.
The 31 pages had a total of about 180,000 members, and they had identical or similar groups of administrators and often posted the same messages at the same time, which is what led Shapira and his group to conclude they were being run by bots.
Using fake profiles and "liking" or sharing AfD posts, they got invited to be part of the groups and then slowly worked their way in as moderators, then administrators.
On Sunday, they kicked out the other administrators and started posting their own messages, while changing the names of the sites — "Homeland Love" became "Hummus Love" for example.
In a video Shapira posted, he introduces himself and says "don't worry, it's an old Prussian name" and then tells viewers the new management is "good news for you: from now on you'll only be messed about with by real people."
Shapira said as the news is spreading of the takeover, many new people have joined the pages while many of the original members still remain.
"It's a good chance for people from both sides to talk to one another," he said.