An alliance of mostly anonymous online trolls and extremist agitators are meddling in Germany's election, but researchers say Russians aren’t to blame.
Instead, they say, right-wing groups in the United States are behind materials popping up on YouTube, messaging board sites like 4chan and reddit and texting service Gab.ai.
The evidence comes less than a week before Sunday's vote that is likely to hand German Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term. "So far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity," said Simon Hegelich," a professor of political science data at the Technical University of Munich who has advised the German government about the threat of hacking and false information.
Hegelich said proving connections among sympathizers is extremely difficult and may never be conclusive.
But an analysis of 300 million tweets over the past six months by Hegelich and researchers at the Technical University of Munich shows Germany is a hotspot for posts that use the hashtag " #AltRight." "A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the 'alt-right' movement in the U.S.," Hegelich said, referring to a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology includes racism, populism and white nationalism.
Many denigrate both leading candidates — Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, and her chief rival, Martin Schulz of the left-of-center Social Democratic Party — with the hashtags #merkeland #Schulz.
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