Disinfo Update 11/02/2019

Our weekly newsletter on disinformation issues.

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Youtube: won’t the earth be flat anymore?

Google-owned video service announced it is tweaking its algorithms to “begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.” For the time being, the change will be operated gradually and will only affect recommendations of a very small set of videos in the United State. “It is a great victory”, former Youtube engineer Guillaume Chaslot commented.

Trolls are humans too

Inspired by her research on the Internet Research Agency interference during the 2016 US campaign, Camille François tried to find out the humans behind the trolls. She talked to some of the actual persons who worked on these influence campaigns. What she discovered could help countries fight foreign-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the future.

“This number is no longer in service”

In a white paper on “stopping abuse” published last week in India, Whatsapp says it has been deleting 2 millions accounts per months in an effort to hinder the spread of disinformation. The company had discovered examples of “attackers” rigging hardware to be able to control several accounts simultaneously. Others used emulators to run multiple accounts on the same computer. One giveaway was that messages sent by automated accounts rarely displayed a “typing” status. Suspicious accounts also tended to send high volumes of messages soon after registering.

Matt Jones, who leads anti-spam engineering team in the company said that WhatsApp had seen evidence in earlier Indian state elections of a major party appearing to create multiple groups of voters based on demographic data.

Oooh Canada

The federal government of Canada has unveiled a series measures aimed at protecting Canada’s electoral system from foreign interference and enhancing Canada’s readiness to defend the democratic process from cyber threats and disinformation. This will be done through a “Critical Election Incident Public Protocol” that will be overseen by a working group of five senior level non-political government officials. This “Bill C-76” also gives Canada’s Elections Commissioner new powers to conduct investigations into election interference and compels social media platforms to create databases of their advertising during the campaign.

Duty of care

The British government has signalled it will make social media firms sign a legally binding code of conduct that imposes on them a duty of care towards young users. Margot James, the minister for digital and creative industries, announced the measures during her speech at the Safer Internet Day conference. The British government will be bringing forward laws to tackle social media giants in the coming weeks.

Library

Agenda and announcements

Poynter has been awarded a $5 million grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to establish the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership.

HR corner

  • Avaaz is building up its team for a European elections project. Find the job descriptions here.
  • Reboot is seeking eight consultants across Nigeria to work on a project aimed at understanding the misinformation and disinformation on closed messaging apps in Nigeria.