Online propaganda: how safe are our elections?


It’s the new threat
to national integrity. Misinformation spread
through social media. And it’s disrupted
elections around the world. Recent European Parliament
polls were billed as the most hackable ever. But were they? And is enough being
done to fight back? To be able to detect patterns
of malicious disinformation, journalists and analysts
work with data sets made available to them by
social media companies. So when we talk
about accessing data programmatically,
what I’m referring to is writing a small piece
of software called a script. The aim is to detect abnormal
activity, such as social media bots spreading fake
news or computational techniques like political
advertising using microtargeting. We’re interested in
who is advertising most, who is spending
the most on advertising. For the first time, Facebook
has published a database of political and
issue ads that could help identify the top spenders
in 30 European countries. I would start by accessing
data from the API. API stands for Application
Programming interface. So you extract this data
through the API and then what? And then you have, if you’ve
written a certain amount of data to your computer, you
can then analyse it as you see fit depending on what
you’re looking for. But that data you have
in here now, do you? Yes, actually. That’s what we’re
looking at here. So here you can see on the
left-hand side the lighter blue dots represent
lower bounds, the darker blue dots the upper bounds. Lots of the ads are
repeated many, many times. Yeah. My guess would be they run
a campaign with the ads, they look at the responses, they
perhaps adjust the targeting. So they optimise… …and rerun. Yeah. As an advertiser, it would
make sense to do that. Who is the top spender here? Well currently, we see that it
appears to be the People’s Vote Campaign. All right. The level of concern
that preceded the EU parliamentary election
was absolutely warranted. Social media companies
like Facebook are under pressure to increase
this kind of transparency. Fears of a foreign
interference were fueled by accusations of
Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. But the European elections
were uniquely vulnerable. Low turnout and protest voting
means propaganda campaigns can reap high rewards. Nahema Marchal investigated
social media misinformation in the run-up to the
European election. What we did is that we looked
at the most important sources of junk news and
professional news that were being shared during
that one-month period before the election. And we looked at what the public
engagement with these sources was on Facebook. So, how many shares, and likes,
and comments, and eyeballs sort of ended up on these stories. And by comparing the
two, one of the things that was quite striking is that
junk news stories, any given individual story by
a junk news outlet, tends to be a lot more engaging. Junk news is emotive. It tends to rely on click bait,
often taps into base emotions, like fear or outrage. And that’s something
that creates engagement on social media. You looked at half
a million tweets in seven different languages. What did you find? Despite all of the
concerns that were raised before the election, we
find very, very low levels of junk news overall. And, even more strikingly, very
few of these links actually redirected to known Russian
sources of misinformation. While the attention,
especially in the context of this election, was
on foreign interference and potentially on
Russian interference, that was not
reflected in our data. The findings and the data… Can the social media
companies themselves be trusted to take this
seriously enough? We’re not yet at the
stage, essentially, where any researcher
can go and have comprehensive or meaningful
access to social media data. Researchers still have to
be extremely creative about the ways in which they analyse
and examine the conversations that are happening
on social media. Public policymakers are also
pushing for more transparency. We haven’t yet seen enough,
in my view, engagement from the platforms. And we’re going to keep
pressing on these issues because, after all, the European
parliamentary elections were very important, but
elections don’t stop. There’s an election somewhere
in Europe every week. We didn’t have.. Who is behind online propaganda? Who pays for it? Transparency on these
questions is only a first step in the fight against fake news.




Comments
  1. Confident ignorance of the facts about the EU propagated by Brexit has caused people to think they can undertake risky acts for which they do not have the skills, talent or know how.

    Lack of self control and a delusional obsession with it's own economic grandeur will be the UK's undoing.

  2. They want to regulate independently owned media groups. These people are the devil and want to bring an age of control and deceit

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