Fake news: Governments join the battle of memes
Disinformation continues to spread on social media—and governments are now routinely the perpetrators, said Davey Alba and Adam Satariano in The New York Times. Researchers at Oxford University found that “the number of countries with political disinformation campaigns more than doubled, to 70, in the past two years.” At least seven countries have run campaigns to influence social media outside their own borders: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and, of course, Russia. These efforts are spearheaded by “formal organizations”—complete with “hiring plans, performance bonuses, and receptionists”—that spread messages or harass political opponents. The threat to U.S. security is sufficient that even the military is involved, said Pete Norman in Bloomberg.com. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is testing an algorithm that can quickly scan 500,000 stories or videos looking for “semantic errors,” such as mismatched earrings or unusual backgrounds, and “spot fake news with malicious intent” before it goes viral. Alas, the system won’t be ready before the 2020 election.
There is some hopeful news, said Angela Chen in the MIT Technology Review. “Facebook and Twitter receive most of the attention,” but the messaging service WhatsApp has also been plagued by coordinated disinformation campaigns that have influenced elections in Brazil and India. To stop viral disinformation, WhatsApp cut the number of times users can forward a message from 20 to five. Testing by NYU researchers found that with the new limit, “80 percent of messages died within two days.” Facebook also took a big step toward restricting the spread of disinformation by tightening requirements for paid political ads, said Irina Ivanova in CBSNews.com. Now, in addition to a street address and contact information, political ad buyers must “provide a tax ID number, a Federal Election Commission identification number, or a government website matching the buyer’s email to Facebook.” How the platform will enforce the new rules, though, remains a big question.
“As impeachment looms, disinformation experts are bracing for a fresh cyclone of chaos,” said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. President Trump’s internet boosters in the U.S. and abroad “have proved to be adept at inserting noise and confusion into political controversies.” But Democrats have also seized on the impeachment momentum, using social media to solicit donations or urging supporters to sign petitions. Impeachment is fast becoming another skirmish “in a long-running information battle being fought between partisan keyboard warriors using Twitter threads, YouTube clips, and Facebook memes to seize control of the national conversation.” ■