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JLR and Billy TK
(Image : The Spinoff)

PoliticsOctober 15, 2020

Advance NZ Facebook page shut down for ‘repeatedly’ spreading Covid-19 misinformation

JLR and Billy TK
(Image : The Spinoff)

The page was deleted this afternoon in the midst of a live stream by co-leader Billy Te Kahika. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

Facebook has confirmed it removed the page for Advance New Zealand for “repeatedly” spreading misinformation about Covid-19. 

The Facebook page for the party disappeared from Facebook about 3pm this afternoon, cutting off a live stream from co-leader Billy Te Kahika.

During the Facebook live, Te Kahika hinted the page was about to be removed.

(Image : Facebook)

In a statement provided to The Spinoff, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We don’t allow anyone to share misinformation on our platforms about Covid-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm.

 “We have clear policies against this type of content and will enforce on these policies regardless of anyone’s political position or party affiliation. We removed Advance New Zealand / New Zealand Public Party’s Facebook Page for repeated violations of this policy.”

Facebook’s misinformation policy states that it will remove any claims about Covid-19 that could lead someone to get sick or not seek treatment.

“We have a trained team of 15,000 content reviewers who work quickly to remove anything which breaks our Community Standards,” the spokesperson said. 

Te Kahika has previously spread misinformation about Covid-19 on his personal Facebook page. In late May, he talked about there being “demonic” plans behind Covid-19, saying it is his job “leading people to know God”.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said they were not involved in the decision to remove Advance NZ’s Facebook page.

“It’s our understanding that Facebook made the decision to remove the Advance NZ page.  They are free to determine their own terms and conditions for people using the platform,” they said.

Advance NZ’s other social media accounts are still active. In a tweet, the party said its Facebook account had been unpublished.

In a statement, Te Kahika has called Facebook’s decision to unpublish the page “nothing short of election interference”.

“Advance NZ has been bravely questioning the Government’s approach to Covid-19, sharing the views and advice of international scientists, and standing up to vested interests in New Zealand,” he said.

“This is a cynical example of election interference by an American owned social media outlet that has no business performing any such operation in our sovereign nation.”

Te Kahika has also addressed the deletion in a live video broadcast from his personal Facebook page. “This is a war, whānau. This is really disturbing. This is [meant to be] free and democratic New Zealand,” he said.

The page’s removal comes a day after Advance NZ was ordered to pull advertising that falsely claimed vaccines are mandatory under the law. In a Facebook video, Te Kahika called Facebook’s interference unprecedented and said “I don’t think any other of the political parties are going through anything like this.”

That’s not strictly true: The Outdoors Party considered suing the social media giant earlier this month after its page was deleted for allegedly sharing “misinformation”.

In a statement, the party’s co-leader criticised the decision, saying “our site only shows press releases, candidates, policy and news which could hardly be called misinformation.”

It’s not the first time Advance NZ has been accused of spreading mistruths, however this is the biggest action so far to curb the party’s messages. A recent study found Advance NZ was the worst spreader of “fake news” on Facebook during the election campaign.

Today’s developments follow moves by social media companies to stop misinformation being spread ahead of the US election. Both Facebook and Twitter have taken action to stop the distribution of reporting with unconfirmed claims about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, leading President Trump’s campaign and allies to charge the companies with censorship.

Facebook has also been putting anti-misinformation messages in the news feeds of people who have engaged with fake Covid-19 stories, and has previously censored posts by Trump.

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