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Negative posts on Facebook sought to discredit democratic processes in Lithuania

With the new government starting their term, Lithuanian parliamentary election of 2020 is still in the spotlight. Political campaigns often become subjects of attempts to discredit, spread divisive narratives, and confuse voters by spreading false/misleading information. The main targets of negative communication on Facebook concerning the election were electoral process, electoral management body, and participants in the election themselves. According to Debunk EU, those messages potentially sought to discourage people from voting because of COVID-19 pandemic, discredit the Central Electoral Commission, and enhance the negative attitude towards the political system in Lithuania.

Debunk EU team has analysed 822 posts which were shared on Facebook groups over the period of August 1st to October 25th. The analysts have continuously researched Facebook groups and have compiled a list of those which tend to spread misleading information on various topics. Throughout the analysed period, 110 cases of negative communication concerning the Lithuanian parliamentary election were found in 29 different Facebook groups with the number of members ranging from 138 to 71 000.

Daily dynamics of Facebook posts by narrative
Daily dynamics of Facebook posts by narrative, @DebunkEU data

According to the senior analyst Balys Liubinavičius, the increase of negative communication was noticed right after the first round of the election - 16 such posts targeting elections and political parties were detected one day after (on October 12th). The most prominent messages focused on the results of the election and implied that the winners of the first round will harm Lithuania and its citizens.

“The analysis has also shown that active Facebook members tend to post same or similar posts in different Facebook groups. This indicates that negative communication is spread systematically and seeks to influence broader part of the society”, - says the expert.

Debunk EU analysts looked into the messages spread by owners of those Facebook users and also the attachments found in their posts (YouTube videos, articles from media, re-shared Facebook posts, etc.). Mr. Liubinavičius says that adding an attachment to a post may create an impression that the information shared in the post is legitimate and trustworthy. Moreover, such trend suggests that Facebook is used as a platform to share negative communication created in other digital information sources.

“It is worth to emphasize that Facebook posts commonly consist of two parts - a message and an attachment included in the post. Because of this structure, these posts can show the negative attitude held by citizens towards elections, and at the same time potentially seek to enhance distrust in the electoral process”, - says the expert.

To have a profound insight into negative communication spread on Facebook, the analysts grouped detected cases by narratives (targets of the message) and sub-narratives (the main message sent by the Facebook post). This way they could grasp potential negative impact on the society, such as increased distrust in institutions or political system, and diminished importance of voting.

According to Mr. Liubinavičius, most posts spread negative information about the participants in election and shared a message that there is no political force that Lithuania could benefit from. This narrative was found in one-third of analysed posts.

“The main targets of negative communication on Facebook were electoral process, electoral management body and participants in the election themselves. Those messages potentially sought to diminish the importance of voting and discourage people from casting their ballots, also to discredit the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania and enhance the negative attitude towards the political system in Lithuania and participants in the election”, - explains the analyst.
Share of posts by target
Share of posts by target, @DebunkEU data

The analysis has shown that Facebook posts containing negative messages targeting participants in the election reached the highest number of social interactions. According to Mr. Liubinavičius, this indicates that people tend resonate more with those messages that negatively present particular parties or candidates.

Reach of analysed posts by narrative
Reach of analysed posts by narrative, @DebunkEU data
Messages by the number of posts
Messages by the number of posts, @DebunkEU data

Half of the Facebook posts (55 out of 110), where the negative communication was detected, included targeting participants of the election. The most prominent sub-narratives were:

1. Political parties are unnecessary attributes of political system in Lithuania.
2. There is no political force, that the country would benefit from.

It is worth to mention that the first sub-narrative was detected two times more frequently than the second one (38 times to 17 times respectively).

“Posts that used this narrative usually attacked a particular party or candidate, yet more frequently tended to negatively paint a group of political parties, for example, all systemic or all left-winged parties. Moreover, they sought to convince that political parties or their members are controlled by third parties, such as business corporations, criminal organizations, etc.”, - says Mr. Liubinavičius.

Facebook posts that targeted the Central Electoral Commission and other institutions accountable for election management conclude 32.6% of all detected negative messages. The main messages were:

1. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) is an incompetent institution.
2. Electoral procedures are non-transparent.

Notably, negative reaction towards CEC arose after its decisions not to register Neringa Venckienė in the election because her participation would not comply with the Constitution. Another situation that sparked negative messages was the decision to register Laisvės Partija to the elections, because according to political opponents, the party did not meet the procedure standards.

According Mr. Liubinavičius, negative messages towards the election management body may increase distrust in institutions and transparency of the elections. However, as many posts were created by persons related to political parties, it is more likely that Facebook posts targeting CEC were a part of the political campaign.

Posts targeting the electoral process concluded 27.5% of detected negative messages and had three different sub-narratives:

  1. election in Lithuania is undemocratic and unfair,

  2. voting in the election is meaningless,

  3. voting in the election can pose threat to the voters because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Debunk EU detected that 97.3% of the posts which included negative communication about Lithuanian parliamentary election and its participants were in Lithuanian and only minority (2.7%) were posted in Russian.

Main narratives shared by language
Main narratives shared by language, @DebunkEU data

Throughout August 1st – October 25th Debunk EU analysts looked through 822 posts on Facebook, 110 of them included negative information about Lithuanian parliamentary election of 2020.

Debunk EU analysts use multiple tools to deliver reports:

  • DebunkEU analysis platform.

  • CrowdTangle - Facebook tool that tracks interactions on public content from Facebook pages and groups, verified profiles, Instagram accounts, and subreddits.

  • Truly Media - collaboration platform developed to support primarily journalists in the verification of digital content.

  • TruthNest - Twitter data analysis platform.

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