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Facebook deletes accounts of German anti-lockdown group

September 16, 2021

The tech giant says the Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement was causing "social harm" by promoting conspiracy theories against coronavirus restrictions.

An anti-lockdown demonstration by Querdenken 711 in Berlin
The Querdenken protests have attracted a group of coronavirus skeptics and anti-vaxxersImage: SULUPRESS/picture alliance

Social media giant Facebook deleted nearly 150 accounts, pages and groups linked with Germany's Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement, the platform's representatives said on Thursday.  The movement made its reputation by accusing the media and politicians of lying about the coronavirus pandemic.

"The people behind this activity 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," Facebook head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, told reporters.

The clampdown included both Facebook's own platform and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. The company blocked domains linked with the movement from being shared. Accounts of Querdenken founder Michael Ballweg have also been affected. 

Facebook to monitor, 'take action' if needed

The group gained popularity during anti-lockdown protests in Germany, and attracted various fringe groups including people from the far-right. At several anti-lockdown protests, police officers and journalists were attacked by the members of the movement.

According to Facebook, individuals linked with the Querdenken movement repeatedly violated the platform's standards against spreading health misinformation, incitement of violence, bullying, harassment and hate speech. Gleicher said the group was causing "coordinated social harm."

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However, Facebook said it was not banning all Querdenken content. The company was "continuing to monitor the situation and will take action" if necessary, according to Facebook representative Gleicher.

Deleted from YouTube

The clampdown is the first time Facebook is taking action against the so-called "social harm" campaigns. Such campaigns "typically involve networks of primarily authentic users who organize to systematically violate our policies to cause harm on or off our platform," Gleicher said.

In May this year, YouTube removed the Querdenken 711 channel with its parent company Google accusing it of violating YouTube's misinformation guidelines.

dj/rt (dpa, AFP, AP)