“State-sponsored disinformation campaigns are upping their game, and they won’t be limited to election cycles. Democracies are still playing catch-up — the United States barely so. It’s time for the United States to step up, work with Europe and together pull together like-minded governments, social media companies and civil society groups to learn from each other. With resources, time, attention and especially political will, we can develop a democratic defense against disinformation.”
Lifelike renderings of presidents, along with thousands of similar deepfakes posted on the internet in the past two years, have alarmed many observers, who believe the technology could be used to disgrace politicians and even swing elections. Democracies are gravely threatened by the speed at which disinfo can be created and shared, before the tiresome work of verification is performed. Before it was debunked, a digitally altered video showing Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur drunkenly through a speech was widely shared on Facebook and YouTube last month—and retweeted by President Trump, who has not deleted it. The director of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, Eileen Donahoe, wants political leaders and candidates of all stripes to pledge not to use deepfakes against their opponents and to disavow any deepfakes put out on their behalf.
Some employees didn’t even look up from their monitors when a 42-year-old man tasked with purging Facebook of prohibited content died suddenly of a heart attack at his desk, according to a Verge investigation into a key company tasked with moderating Facebook content. Managers of the Facebook contractor Cognizant then allegedly prohibited employees from discussing the death at work for fear it would hamper productivity, according to the report.
26 YouTube channels sharing fake or conspiratorial information backed and funded by the Russian government are estimated to have made $7M to $32M in ad revenue and had more than 9 billion views. Previously on these channels, YouTube had not placed a disclaimer in the description of the video noting that the channel is funded by Russian entities. YouTube has since placed the disclaimer.
“The information ecosystem is broken. Our political conversations are happening on infrastructure—Facebook, YouTube, Twitter—built for viral advertising. The velocity of social sharing, the power of recommendation algorithms, the scale of social networks, and the accessibility of media manipulation technology has created an environment where pseudo events, half-truths, and outright fabrications thrive.”
The Russian government is likely to try to influence the 2020 presidential election, not through the release of stolen emails and other documents but through faked videos, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. A carefully crafted, controversial fake video, known as a deepfake, would be “hugely disruptive and hugely influential,” Schiff said.
Thousands of videos that promote neo-Nazism, white supremacy, or other extremist ideas will be removed from the YouTube platform. YouTube is also making an effort to modify its algorithm so that finding one extremist video on YouTube does not facilitate finding more.
The Russian government-sponsored operation by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency to manipulate American public opinion during the 2016 election was “a vast, coordinated campaign that was incredibly successful at pushing out and amplifying its messages,” according to a Symantec analysis. And some trolls even used their fake accounts to make money, with one potentially generating nearly $1 million.
“If a monopolistic tech company decided to fully embrace its capacity to spy on its users and leverage that data to a personal or political end, the consequences for democracy could be catastrophic. Americans got a taste of what an influence attack looks like during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. So long as big tech remains largely unregulated, future influence attacks on American elections will become only more potent.”
“Opposing immigration might not automatically make you a white nationalist, but forming a militia to harass terrified asylum seekers probably qualifies. And at a time when Facebook is pushing its users to spend more time in private groups, it seems notable that the company has no comment on a 5,000-member militia that’s coordinating on its platform. Saying that you’ve banned white supremacists is obviously much easier than doing so. But given the way that tech platforms now reflexively laud their artificial intelligence efforts whenever questions of moderation come up, I’m struck by how easily white supremacists have managed to evade these purported bans.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Facebook’s refusal to take down an altered video of her shows that the company’s leaders were active contributors to online disinformation and “willing enablers” of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Thanks to Robert Mueller and our intelligence agencies, we’re a lot more educated today than we were three years ago on the threat of disinformation—where it comes from, how it is spread, and what the effects are. Or are we? As it turns out, probably not surprisingly, Americans’ understanding of these matters falls along political lines, according to a new study by Comparitech.
Senate Democrats are redoubling their efforts to pass additional election security legislation, following Robert Mueller’s warning about the threat of election interference today. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner called for “legislation that enhances election security, increases social media transparency, and requires campaign officials to report any contact with foreign nationals attempting to coordinate with a campaign.” Amen.
“It is hard to believe that the Facebook of 2019, which is so consuming of and reckless with our data, was once the privacy-protecting Facebook of 2004. When users today sign up for Facebook, they agree to allow the company to track their activity across more than eight million websites and mobile applications that are connected to the internet. They cannot opt out of this. The ubiquitous tracking of consumers online allows Facebook to collect exponentially more data about them than it originally could, which it can use to its financial advantage.”
Disinformation is a scourge in and of itself, but now it’s causing real disease. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles, mumps, and whooping cough, have again become an issue in Western and developed countries, fueled by an anti-vaccine movement that is growing more cohesive, gaining more funding, and becoming more adept at spreading its message.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg ignored a subpoena from the Canadian Parliament to appear in Ottawa to attend a hearing. Facebook is now tempting the Canadian Parliament to hold the executives in contempt.
“We still have time to draw the necessary lessons. Just as in Europe, it is now our own people who are primarily responsible for twisting the truth on an industrial scale. And, just as in Europe, we are doing little to compel the social media platforms to clean up their act and decontaminate our information environment. And the Trump administration has still done little to develop a coherent program for addressing the problem. There is no hint of an overarching strategy for countering the online machinery of lies that has become such a part of everyday life.”
Yesterday, executives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter came to Capitol Hill to testify about election security. But instead of asking questions about how the companies were tackling disinfo campaigns or preventing foreign governments from purchasing political ads on their platforms ahead of the 2020 election, Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee complained about the “shadow-banning” (i.e., quietly blocking or restricting) of conservative accounts. Really?
In the first quarter of 2019, Facebook banned more than 2.2 billion fake accounts. More than double the amount banned in fourth quarter of 2018.
A hunt for political disinfo spreading on Facebook in Europe suggests that the far-right has effectively used the platform to spread propaganda to millions of voters ahead of tomorrow’s European Parliament vote. The study found that disinformation networks identified and disabled by Facebook had more interactions (13 million) in three months than the main party pages of six major political parties combined (9 million). That’s a lot of influence.
After making several threatening comments on different YouTube videos, a 35-year-old Utah man drove to YouTube’s HQ in northern California with a gun. While he did not fire the weapon, authorities tracked the man back to Utah and arrested him there.
Grumpy Cat, the subject of thousands of internet memes, died after complications from a urinary tract infection. The world-famous cat died at the age of 7.
“Democracies depend on the free flow of accurate information more fundamentally than autocracies do, not only for functioning markets and better public policy, but also to allow citizens to make informed voting decisions, provide policy input, and hold officials accountable. At the same time, information flows can be manipulated to undermine democracy by allowing the unchecked spread of propaganda and pseudo-facts, all made more efficient by the Internet, automation, and machine learning. This is Democracy’s Dilemma: the open forms of input and exchange that it relies on can be weaponized to inject falsehood and misinformation that erode democratic debate.”
Next to Donald Trump himself, perhaps no one understands the MAGA zeitgeist as well as Dan Scavino, Trump’s director of social media. But therein lies the problem. Yes-man Scavino enables Trump to use social media for bias-confirmation from slavishly devoted followers and, potentially, foreign trolls, rather than employing it to persuasively communicate policy choices shaped by experience and expertise.
The Archimedes Group is accused of running an influence campaign that sought to disrupt elections in several countries around the world. Facebook barred the Israeli company from using its platform and banned dozens of Israeli accounts for spreading disinformation.
The White House launched a tool on Wednesday that will allow any U.S. citizen to submit a complaint if they think they were unfairly censored on social media platforms. The tool asks users to click which platform they’ve experienced bias on (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Other), and to link to the suspected post and post a screenshot of the rule violation notification. Skeptics pointed out that the unsophisticated form could be easily gamed by anyone who wanted to troll the administration.
The U.S. says it supports an international effort spearheaded by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron to find ways to stop social media from spreading hate — but won’t take part in it. Signing onto the effort are the UK, Japan, Australia, Italy, India, Germany, and Spain, along with tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube. The White House suggested it has concerns about First Amendment violations.
“In his own horrific way, Trump seemed to expand the possibilities of American politics, making it seem as if the old rules of electability no longer applied. Many of us assumed that the expansion would go in both directions, since Trump’s rise represented such a catastrophic failure of the political center. But there are a lot of Democrats who don’t want a revolution, or even a protracted political fight. They just want things to be the way they were before Trump came along, when ordinary people didn’t have to think about Twitter at all.”
Singapore’s ruling party defended its planned bill to combat “fake news” amid continued debate about who gets to define what’s true and false. Under a new bill backed by the government, it will be government ministers who make that call. “Free speech should not be affected by this bill,” Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in parliament this week. “We are talking here about falsehoods, we are talking about bots, we are talking about trolls, we are talking about fake accounts, and so on.”
“There are groups out there in whose interest it is to make you hate one another and playing on your heartfelt beliefs is an amazingly effective way to achieve that division. You’re being played. Vladimir Putin (as just one example) figured out how to weaponize your fragile ego and he’s turning you into an unwitting participant in the decimation of your neighbourly good will. And he’s not the only one. So many entities would love for us to be at each other’s throats. Because it makes you loyal to them and—more importantly—it makes them money.”
Canada’s Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has issued subpoenas for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to appear before the committee. Zuckerberg had previously ignored previous requests to appear before the committee. The committee wants Zuckerberg to address election meddling and misinformation in their meeting.
Be careful who you friend on Facebook. The company said Monday that it had removed a network of 21 fake Russian accounts that were “engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts to join Groups, impersonate other users, and to amplify allegations about a public figure working on behalf of intelligence services.” A sample post shared by one of the fake accounts was about a conspiracy theory about the Democratic Party.
As Facebook prepares to combat misinformation in the upcoming European elections, the social media giant has opened a European “war room” in Ireland. The space will be used by Facebook employees to fight back against fake news and misinformation on the platform during the lead up to the EU’s elections.
Muslim community leaders say the mastermind of the Sri Lanka Easter suicide attacks used Facebook to publicly call for the death of non-Muslims, and worked for months in private chatrooms to persuade six young men to sacrifice themselves for that cause. He also used social media to inspire wealthy brothers Ilham and Inshaf Ibrahim to bankroll his assault.