In The News

Fake, misleading social media posts exploding globally, Oxford study finds

McClatchy covered the latest ComProp work: the 2018 inventory of social media manipulation, authored by Samantha Bradshaw and I.

Russia’s social media blitz to influence the 2016 U.S. election was part of a global “phenomenon” in which a broad spectrum of governments and political parties used Internet platforms to spread junk news and disinformation in at least 48 countries last year, an Oxford University study has found.

Including U.S. government programs aimed at countering extremists such as Islamic fundamentalists, about $500 million has been spent worldwide on research, development or implementation of social media “psychological operations” since 2010, the authors estimated.

“The manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms has emerged as a critical threat to public life,” the researchers wrote. They warned that, at a time when news consumption is increasingly occurring over the Internet, this trend threatens “to undermine trust in the media, public institutions and science.”

In an earlier analysis covering 2016, the researchers found governments and political parties had deployed social media to manipulate the public in 28 countries.

“Disinformation during elections is the new normal,” co-author Philip Howard told McClatchy. “In democracies around the world, more and more political parties are using social media to spread junk information and propaganda to voters.

“The largest, most complex disinformation campaigns are managed from Russia and directed at democracies. But increasingly, I’m also worried about copycat organizations springing up in other authoritarian regimes.”

In about a fifth of the countries evaluated, the researchers reported disinformation campaigns are occurring on chat applications, even encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram. Howard said young people in poorer nations “develop their political identities” on those sites, “so that’s where the disinformation campaigns will go.”

Read the full article here.

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