A platform-by-platform prescription for treating the disinformation disease


From Cunanan to Russian propaganda campaigns to Kobe nineteen myths. Social media is unquestionably the vector for increasingly dangerous misinformation. But the big platforms are still trying to have things both ways they take credit for pro democracy movements and black lives matter. But maintained that groups devoted to armed militia groups didn't influence the shooting of protesters in Kenosha Wisconsin they pitched services to politicians that they claim can win elections, but then say they're not responsible for political speech. So with just weeks left until the US election, we wondered if the platforms all agreed overnight that disinformation is a threat to society and democracy what would change. Joan Donovan is the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on media politics and public policy at Harvard I up she says gaming twitter should be a little harder a place like twitter needs to get a little bit more honest about how they're broadcast system plays into the disinformation incentive structure. So if you're just a small website by and large is very difficult for people to stumble across that however, if you're employing a little bit of automation, maybe some advertising. And you have potentially even paid off some influencers. You can make that disinformation scale and look organic, and then there's too. But which is way more aggressive about suggesting things for us to consume it systems like youtube that depend on recommendations need to take a serious look at that in need to understand that if I hate watch a and on video because someone sends it to me, the Algorithm remembers that. So even if I didn't like it, I can't get. Out of that Vortex so I think recommend needs an overhaul because it does tend to work in the favour of manipulators. Donovan says recommendations for facebook events, pages, and groups also need an overhaul facebook left up with a call to arms event in Kenosha even after it was flagged at least four hundred and fifty five times according to buzzfeed and only took it down after an armed teenager killed two protesters so we have to be attuned to the fact. That groups like that don't grow fast and become agile without technology and that facebook event page for that night bears a lot of responsibility for people knowing where to show up what to bring and and how to interact with each other. This is a feature of the design John Donovan of Harvard. She also said don't ignore Instagram influencers are driving a lot of this info and no, we don't think any of this will happen absent a lot of regulation. And now for some related actually today, it's related audio. I talked with John Donovan for nearly half an hour and wanted to share just a little more of the conversation with you mainly because researchers believe this is a real threat to the integrity of the election and like I said before ballots are going to start going out in just a few weeks. So I asked her about the sense. Of urgency around solving this problem, you know there is a lot of scenario planning in two thousand, nineteen absent the pandemic of how people were going to be able to vote and how people were going to engage with the election process with the pandemic. There's added emphasis on social media companies to really get this right because most of everyone's information is being filtered through these platforms so even People that would have been going door to door organizing ride shares for the elderly are unable to do that, and so tech companies now are not only at the center of the targets of groups that want to perpetrate information warfare and carry out influence operations but they're also the most important information conduit for groups that just want to have a fair election right. So you're saying that this scenario never accounted for the fact that social media which was already vector for disinformation or for good information. Would become even more central. Exactly and it, and the thing that we know is researchers about disinformation and media manipulation is that it works because it plays on people's outrage and it plays on novelty. So some of the features of social media itself which is journalists really strived to be first out the gate with new information and so that they can be You know at the head of the the pack in the top of the search results are now being turned against them, and so the notion of what it means to wait in journalism to confirm something is up against viral misinformation that is really playing on that information void and the time that it takes for journalists to really know. What it is that they're they're writing about and be able to share that information with their audiences. Right, you know we also talked to a researcher who said that we talked about Qa nine as really kind of an emerging cult and one of the things that she said was that movements like that really thrive in this kind of perfect storm scenario where not only do you have an active and thriving ability to push out disinformation but you have a lot of people stuck at home with a lot of time and a lot of loneliness and desperation I would assume that was also not in this scenario planning. No there was to be honest with you as people were thinking about researchers were thinking about this moment there was a conspiracy wildcard and you know that that was an easy. No. In the end, the threat models in the matrix of our thinking, we did know that something would happen pizza gate, of course, in two, thousand sixteen. Is something that has become instructive and informative for researchers to understand how. This attention to conspiracies within certain communities can strengthen the trust between knees, these groups and also can help them to recruit and I use recruit really loosely nobody's like I'm a member of the pizza gay conspiracy community but with something like Hugh and on you do have folks that are outwardly saying you know where we go one, we go all using these hashtags trying to signal to others that. They believe this to and because the infrastructure of went and the networks were already in place during the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, it became a an opportunity to tell us another story about the deep state and another story about the collusion between what are very coded Antisemitic tropes about a global co ball and that feature. Of Social Media that brings these groups together through the use of Hashtags, is something that is accelerated medical misinformation and really grown the ranks of people who were familiar with John. Do you think that we're headed toward a flash point where people will re recognize the value of information or do you think it's sort of going to be like a long slow decline into little islands of personal truth? It's a really good question. You know if you asked me this ten years ago, I'd say the capacity for the Internet to ensure that we have hyper local information networks is at an all time high. If you think back to the days of indymedia and how great some of the local citizen journalism was in those moments however because we've reached this. Obligatory passage point where information networks have become consolidated within these. You know super large. Companies. have to rethink data as currency and we have to rethink data infrastructures If we're going to. Build the web that we want, and we do have to figure out a public component to this infrastructure that doesn't leave leader leave us at the mercy of social media companies to do. All of this information wrangling I've been a big proponent of trying to get platform companies to see the capacity to do content curation using librarians. You know they keep talking about content moderators. I'm like what about your curation process so that when you do look for information on a Google or on facebook that you're getting things that have been vetted not just things that are popular new Joan Donovan from Harvard, there is of. Course more reading on this topic kind of all over the Internet lately, which is a good thing I guess,

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