Facebook shut down the page of the conspiratorial political party Advance New Zealand on Thursday, just two days before the general election, accusing it of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
“We do not allow anyone to share misinformation about Covid-19 on our platforms that could lead to imminent physical harm,” a spokesman for the social media giant told AFP.
The action prompted the party’s co-chair, Billy Te Kahika, who has a large fan base through the online platform, to accuse Facebook of interfering in the upcoming vote.
“Facebook has now officially interfered in the New Zealand 2020 elections,” claimed Te Kahika in a live video posted on his personal Facebook page shortly after saying goodbye.
“They did it in the middle of a broadcast and it’s amazing folks. That’s amazing … they actually went through the threat.”
Facebook’s action against a registered political party in the middle of an election campaign is unprecedented in New Zealand.
It is because the company is showing an increased willingness to crack down on misleading political claims, false reports that advance partisan agendas, and hate speech such as Holocaust denial.
The company recently banned a politician from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP for hate speech and on Thursday blocked links to an article in the New York Post allegedly exposing corrupt dealings by US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Facebook said it would enforce its guidelines on coronavirus misinformation “regardless of a person’s political position or party affiliation”.
“We have removed the Advance New Zealand / New Zealand Public Party’s Facebook page for repeated breaches of the misinformation policy,” it said.
– Bluesman became a politician –
Te Kahika, a former blues musician, is running for parliament after his social media posts claimed Covid-19 was a fake and part of a conspiracy to enslave people that has become hugely popular in New Zealand.
According to the social media tracker CrowdTangle, more than 5.3 million views were generated on the Advance NZ Facebook page between the end of June and the beginning of October.
They are amazing numbers for a new political participant in a nation of only five million people.
Advance NZ’s page views over the same period top 2.8 million for New Zealand’s main opposition party and 5.2 million for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labor Party.
Advance NZ’s Facebook posts have also generated far more activity than either of the mainstream parties.
Advance NZ’s posts were shared 148,000 times, compared with less than 110,000 for the mainstream parties combined, according to CrowdTangle data.
AFP fact-checkers have debunked two of his party’s most popular claims: the government authorized the military to enter private homes and plan compulsory vaccinations.
The latter allegation was made in a campaign video that selectively processed statements by lawmakers, leading the Parliament’s Privilege Committee to condemn “blatant doctoral studies” of footage and demand that it be abolished.
On Thursday, the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority ordered the party to withdraw leaflets containing similar claims, calling them “misleading and irresponsible”.
Te Kahika accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is expected to win Saturday’s election, largely due to her government’s success with coronavirus, of being behind Facebook’s decision to remove the page.
“This is not North Korea, this is not China, but the way this government is behaving, you would think,” he said.
Te Kahika supporters expressed outrage online.
“You did this to Trump, you are both a threat to the establishment,” commented one while another said, “The more they fight you, the more credible they make you.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)