In an elaborate scheme, the German political art collective Center for Political Beauty (ZPS) tricked thousands of potential far-right supporters to unknowingly reveal themselves.
Earlier this week ZPS set up a site where people could identify far-right demonstrators in exchange for money. The site sparked a huge controversy in Germany, not only because it evoked memories of the country’s past security services, but also because many of the images of demonstrators were supposedly uploaded without permission.
The “Special Commission Chemnitz” campaign promised people cash to name participants of a violent anti-immigrant protest in the German city of Chemnitz earlier this year. Rewards started at €34, with special bonuses awarded for identifying people who were police or members of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany‘s domestic security agency.
But in a surprising twist, ZPS yesterday revealed the site was a front for an elaborate honeypot operation. While they did previously identify over 1500 individuals who participated in the protest, the real goal of the site was to get far-right sympathizers to search for themselves and their friends.
Since yesterday, the site no longer offers a search and identification function, but a message that starts with “Thank you, dear Nazis.”
In the message, ZPS explains how they used the search box on their site to create “the most relevant set of data on right-wing extremism that currently exists in Germany,” or so ZPS founder Philipp Ruch claims to German news agency EPD.
“Without realizing it, you gave us your whole network yourselves,” they write on the site. “Lots of you brown mobsters used the search function first, often to look for your own name.” And the names of family and friends, right after that.
By cross-referencing names that were searched on the site with names that the group already knew, they could score identities with a probability of being part of a certain far-right network. Like that, they created a network graph showing “circles of friends, nodes in the network, followers, and whereabouts” of potential extremists.
According to a report on RT, “the Berlin Data Protection Commissioner’s Office said it would open its own investigation into the campaign” in response to the original site. As of writing it’s not known if or what the big reveal will change about this. The message on the site mentions it used the data “just like every other web search service,” and also thanks nazis for this early Christmas present.