Why is the UK spending money on ads in Germany against false Covid information?

German residents have been left confused after being targeted by the British government with a Facebook campaign about the corona pandemic, with social media users asking why the money isn’t being spent by the UK government in its own country.

Why is the UK spending money on ads in Germany against false Covid information?
"Corona is politics for blood suckers.": An corona demonstration in Berlin in August. Photo: DPA

The Facebook post, which is being pushed to users in Germany via paid advertising, states in German “misinformation about Covid on the internet is a hidden danger.”

A video in the post then shows the somewhat inscrutable cartoon of a seagull pinching a colourful ice cream from a cone, followed by a further warning about false information regarding the pandemic.

READ ALSO: How did a fringe conspiracy theory in Germany grow to a nationwide movement?

Click through from the video and users can play a game, called “Go Viral”, that was designed by researchers at Cambridge University and aims to teach people about concepts such as “echo chambers” and emotive language on social media.

People who received the advertising were left wondering though if the money couldn’t have been better spent on public health messaging back in the UK, which is having a much harder time with the coronavirus pandemic than Germany.

“Hey UK government, quick question: why are you spending British taxpayers money on a) targeting me as a German living in Germany with Facebook ads b) trying to get me to play a game about fake news concerning Covid-19 which you have developed and translated into French and German,” one person asked below the post.

One reader of The Local, who received the advert despite having his language settings in English said: “they sent it to me in German so they must think I'm German. Why would the UK want to educate Germans in Germany about Corona? I'm very confused.”

Facebook provides users with information on why they have been targeted with a particular ad. In the case of one user it told him had been targeted because he was interested in religion, married, a male between 25 and 44 years of age and resident in Berlin.

The developers of the game say that it works according to something called “inoculation theory.” The University of Cambridge claims that people who play the game can be “inoculated” against online misinformation for up to three months after playing.

The UK government was not able to provide The Local with details on the money that it has budgeted for advertising the game in Germany or in other countries outside the UK.

READ ALSO: Nearly a third of Germans 'believe in conspiracy theories': Study

A cabinet office spokesperson said that “Germany and the UK work closely on countering disinformation and misinformation, including in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. We informed the German government of our intention to promote Go Viral! in Germany. This complements their own vital efforts to tackle the challenge of Covid-19 misinformation. 

“Go Viral! is based on world-leading research and has been proven to improve the public’s critical reasoning and media literacy in order for them to identify false and misleading information.”

“It forms part of a wider campaign that the UK is delivering domestically and with our partners all over the world to ensure that citizens have the right information to protect themselves.”

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Facebook deletes virus conspiracy accounts in Germany

Facebook says it has deleted the accounts, pages and groups linked to virus conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers in Germany who are vocal opponents of government restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook deletes virus conspiracy accounts in Germany
An anti-vaccination and anti-Covid demo in Berlin on August 28th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

With just 10 days to go before Germany’s parliamentary elections – where the handling of the pandemic by Angela Merkel’s goverment will come under scrutiny – Facebook said it had “removed a network of Facebook and Instagram accounts” linked to the so-called “Querdenker” or Lateral Thinker movement.

The pages posted “harmful health misinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence”, the social media giant said in a statement.

It said that the people behind the pages “used authentic and duplicate accounts to post and amplify violating content, primarily focused on promoting the conspiracy that the German government’s Covid-19 restrictions are part of a larger plan to strip citizens of their freedoms and basic rights.”

The “Querdenker” movement, which is already under surveillance by Germany’s intelligence services, likes to portray itself as the mouthpiece of opponents
of the government’s coronavirus restrictions, organising rallies around the country that have drawn crowds of several thousands.

READ ALSO: Germany’s spy agency to monitor ‘Querdenker’ Covid sceptics

It loosely groups together activists from both the far-right and far-left of the political spectrum, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers. And some of their rallies have descended into violence.

Social media platforms regularly face accusations that they help propagate misinformation and disinformation, particularly with regard to the pandemic and vaccines.