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Source: Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Analysis of Facebook posts by political parties in the lead up to the election shows disinformation remains “largely the forte of fringe parties,” says Dr Mona Krewel, director of the Internet, Social Media and Politics Research Lab at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

The analysis is part of the 2023 New Zealand Social Media Study, which has now looked at 2,437 Facebook posts by political parties and their leaders in the period from 11 September to 1 October.

“During the three weeks we’ve been monitoring Facebook posts, we have only found fake news in posts by some fringe parties, which typically don’t feature in polling,” Dr Krewel said.

Health issues are a common focus of these posts.

“This will probably surprise no one given the amount of disinformation we have seen about COVID and vaccination since the start of the pandemic. However, we have also found that parties posting conspiracy theories are broadening their agenda,” she said.

“The self-proclaimed freedom movements are not single-issue movements anymore. They have learned how ‘to surf the agenda’ and figured out how to embrace new topics and give them their own conspiracy framing. This is how these movements have managed to survive.”

Despite concerns disinformation on social media would increase during the 2023 election campaign, results show this hasn’t happened, she said.

“The proportion of fake news this year is similar to that seen in the 2020 election. Over the past three weeks, the fake news share of Facebook posts peaked at about 2.5 percent in both week one and week three. In between, we even saw disinformation falling.”

Dr Krewel said the low level of disinformation made her optimistic this would be a relatively clean election campaign, but she remained concerned about attacks against specific groups.

“Almost 80 percent of disinformation posts in our sample attacked health institutions and experts. Other targets of attack included transgender people, the ‘mainstream’ media, and Māori.”

The New Zealand Social Media Study will continue to monitor Facebook posts until election day on 14 October.

Full results for the period from 11 September to 1 October are available here.

Results from the first week of monitoring from 11 to 17 September are here and results for the period from 11 to 24 September are here.