Austria's election campaign has been rocked by a scandal that is the most 2017 — the ruling party may have attacked its biggest challenger on Facebook using xenophobic memes and conspiracy theories.
On Saturday, Austrian magazine Profil revealed that two Facebook pages used to attack and discredit Kurz were linked to a former SPÖ election advisor named Tal Silberstein.
According to the report in Profil, while still working with SPÖ, Silberstein set up a small unit focused on negative campaigning that continued after after his dismissal. Much of the content on one of the two pages, which have both been taken offline, ridicules and mocks Kurz.
Photoshopped memes of Kurz made up a sizable number of the posts, showing him next to former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel or with his face on animals' bodies.
(Because he's supposed to be Schüssel's pet or something, you see.)
But it's not all fun and games. “The truth about Sebastian Kurz” Facebook page, which had 12,000 followers, featured xenophobic anti-migrant and anti-refugee posts.
It also featured conspiracy theories linking Kurz to George Soros, the billionaire who is often the subject of anti-Semitic campaigns in central Europe.
Meanwhile, the “We for Sebastian Kurz” Facebook page, which had more than 7,000 followers, was set up to look like a fan page of the centre-right candidate.
But, the page's aim was to generate controversy around contentious issues. For example, it ran a poll in June on whether Austria should tolerate asylum seekers crossing the border from Italy.
A televised debate between Austria's main candidates on Sunday was overshadowed by the scandal.
Kurz tweeted after the debate that it was important to get to the bottom of the Social Democrats' dirty campaigning. "Limits have been exceeded here!" Kurz added.
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.