Congress Tries to Take Down Social Media Disinformation

October 16, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
The Twitter icon on a cellphone. (Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Social media experts described organized disinformation campaigns on social media as a threat to democracy during a congressional hearing Thursday.

Confusion created by the disinformation is leading some Americans to perceive threats to their health, safety or political leadership where none exist, witnesses told the House Intelligence Committee.

“Domestic disinformation now runs rampant,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy foundation on international issues.

Previously the threat was primarily international, such as from Russia, China and Iran as they sought to use social media to promote their special interests, according to witnesses at the hearing. They mentioned Russia’s efforts in 2016 to support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump while using propaganda to discredit his opponent.

Although the foreign threat continues, U.S.-based dissidents are adding to the disinformation, Jankowicz said.

“It does our adversaries’ work for them,” she said.

Members of Congress are considering options to intervene in the disinformation, such as legislation that clamps down on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for allowing threatening or illicit information to be posted on their sites.

Other options would restrict their advertising content or use tax incentives to compel the Internet companies to remove disinformation.

Disinformation refers to false or misleading information that is spread deliberately to deceive.

However, members of the House Intelligence Committee also said they wanted to avoid the risks involved in controlling disinformation, which could lead to censorship.

Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged that social media companies were making progress in blocking disinformation, particularly after the criticism they endured for allowing Russians to exploit them during the 2016 election.

“Social media companies bear some responsibility but the private sector alone” could not be blamed for all the disinformation, Schiff said.

He hinted at the possibility of new legislation but gave no details.

A primary strategy used by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is sophisticated algorithms to identify and block false or misleading information. They admit that some disinformation still slips through the net of their computer code.

Schiff mentioned white supremacists and promoters of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory group, as examples of what he called a “pernicious” threat propagated through social media.

The QAnon conspiracy theory alleges that a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against Trump. The theory commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm,” when thousands of members of the group will be arrested. There is no evidence for any part of the theory.

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., said that when he saw similar disinformation on the Internet, he thought, “How could anyone believe that?”

Recent examples of disinformation claim evidence of election interference and conspiracies that say COVID-19 is a sham epidemic.

A Facebook page called The Other 98% reported in August that mailboxes were being blocked by unknown persons to prevent mail-in voting. The post collected 39,000 likes and comments and reached 18 million viewers, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool for analyzing social media.

The media insights company Zignal Labs reported that nearly a fourth of references last month to voting by mail on television, print and online news were inaccurate.

Another false rumor spreading on Facebook says a group called “deep state” is interfering with the election by inventing the coronavirus pandemic.

In The News

Health

Voting

Social Media

Oversight Board Upholds Facebook Ban on Trump, With Caveat
Social Media
Oversight Board Upholds Facebook Ban on Trump, With Caveat
May 5, 2021
by Dan McCue

Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld the social media platform’s suspension of former President Donald Trump’s Facebook account, but in doing so, it said the company failed to impose the penalty properly. “It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an... Read More

Senators Charge Addiction Drives Social Media Platforms’ Business Models
Social Media
Senators Charge Addiction Drives Social Media Platforms’ Business Models
April 28, 2021
by Victoria Turner

WASHINGTON - Even after the call-to-arms of the Kenosha Guard militia group had been flagged on Facebook 450 times, it was not taken down because it did not “meet the standards” for removal, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at a Senate hearing on Tuesday. This led... Read More

Cicilline: Congress Must Curb Power of Google and Facebook
Technology
Cicilline: Congress Must Curb Power of Google and Facebook
April 21, 2021
by Victoria Turner

WASHINGTON - The dominance of Google and Facebook as “gatekeepers” for online information and massive market power, particularly in digital advertising, has left U.S. journalism in a “state of crisis” and “Americans have had enough,”  said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Tuesday.  “Republicans and Democrats agree that... Read More

Facebook Notifications Are Not Akin to Robocalls
Social Media
Facebook Notifications Are Not Akin to Robocalls
April 1, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - A unanimous Supreme Court sided with Facebook on Thursday, ruling that a notification system the social media giant employs to alert users to suspicious logins does not run afoul of a federal law aimed at curbing robocalls and automated text messages. The case revolved... Read More

Event Looks at Free Expression in the Digital Age
Technology
Event Looks at Free Expression in the Digital Age
March 30, 2021
by Victoria Turner

David Freiheit began his presentation at the American Enterprise Institute event on the values and consequences of free expression in the digital age by pointing to the response of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to Amazon’s “snotty tweets.” Warren has repeatedly vowed to break up the Big... Read More

Posting Vaccine Cards Online Could Attract Scammers
Privacy
Posting Vaccine Cards Online Could Attract Scammers
March 29, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck

As vaccine eligibility expands to those 16 and over in many states, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning those getting shots against posting photos of their vaccine cards online.  “I’ve seen people wanting to be proud and show off that they got their first vaccine,... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top