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Loyalist youngsters lured to interface violence through fake social media accounts

False flag social media accounts - some of them which have set up in the last week - are being used to lure young people to interface protests, some of which have resulted in violence.

A riot that broke out in the Shankill area of west Belfast on Wednesday night followed a protest at the Lanark way interface that was advertised on social media.

The protest time and date appeared on a number of social media platforms, including Facebook.

Local loyalists claim an agitator was behind promotion of the Lanark Way event, luring dozens of young people to the interface.

One Facebook page, which is just six days old, urged people to "join in the fight and keep us British", urging people to meet at Lanark way at 5pm on Wednesday evening.

Violence kicked off shortly after the protest, with a burning car later being driven at the peace line.

Other accounts have been claiming attacks on interfaces were planned and urging people to come out and protest in their area.

The accounts, while all anonymous and in the names of historical loyalist figures, are being shared widely on a number of social media platforms.

Yesterday further social media posts claimed that loyalists intended to riot in east Belfast at the interface with the Short Strand.

The flashpoint has been the scene of sectarian violence in the past.

East Belfast ACT released a statement after false claims appeared online suggesting loyalists planned to attack the Short Strand interface.

The restorative justice group said: "We have engaged with mediators and can make categorically clear the claims within the apparent message which appears totally fabricated are completely false and malicious."

The organisation claimed that many of the posts were "false flag claims" saying they were "without foundation and often the work of faceless agitators who wish to divert from the cause of legitimate protest by drawing young people into violence".

South Belfast UPRG, an organisation linked to the UDA, released a statement appealing to supporters to end the violence, saying "street disturbances will not solve our issues".

The group also called on people to refrain from "posting provocative material on social media".

Ulster Unionist Party MLA Robbie Butler said similar fake protests were being advertised in his Lagan Valley constituency.

Mr Butler said he had been made aware of multiple fake 'social media posters' doing the rounds on Facebook and message platforms about protests in a number of towns over the next number of days.

The Assembly member urged young people not to attend any of the protests, adding "you are worth more".

Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh said she had raised the issue with police and called on the social media platforms to do more to prevent sites being used to orchestrate violence.

"The use of social media platforms to organise protest and potentially encourage violence amongst young people is very concerning," the Shadow Secretary of State said.

"Clearly sites such as Facebook are being exploited by those who are attempting to incite violence and I have made clear to Facebook that they must take action to stop their platform being exploited in this way.

"Social media is a powerful tool to organise action and protest but it must not be used to serve violence, which only undermines legitimate grievances."

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