Disinfo Update 23/09/2019

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The Brussels’ Corner

Last Tuesday, MEPs held a plenary debate initiated by the European Socialists and Democrats (S&D) on foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European democratic processes. Within this, Commissioner Julian King reiterated that, if the results of the Commission’s assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation prove unsatisfactory, the possibility of regulation will be considered. The debate was also an opportunity for S&D to propose the creation of a special European parliamentary committee to focus on foreign electoral interference and disinformation. In the end, MEPs voted to push back the vote on the resolution till the next plenary session in October. 

The fight to shape the prospective Digital Services Act continues to intensify in the European Parliament. An internal letter from last week shows Industry Committee (ITRE) chair Adina-Ioana Vălean arguing that the Internal Market Committee (IMCO) should not be involved in digital policies at all. This ought be viewed in light of IMCO’s proposed legislative initiative report on the DSA, which is now being supported by the Culture and Education Committee (CULT) in a letter to the Conference of the Committee Chairs. 

Time for Oversight

Facebook has provided more details on the structure for its oversight board. Although the board will be independent from Facebook in its decisions, it will be funded by Facebook. In an accompanying letter, Zuckerberg wrote, ‘ultimately I don’t believe private companies like ours should be making so many important decisions about speech on our own’, foreshadowing the necessity of regulation on harmful content. This comes at the moment of last Wednesday’s U.S. Senate Committee hearing where the tech giants were questioned on what they’re doing to combat and remove violent extremist content from their platforms. On the same day, a draft bill to create a ‘national committee’ to oversee harmful internet content was exclusively revealed by the Washington Post. 

In the news…

  • There’s a new online media literacy game on the scene called Troll Factory created by Yle – a Finnish public broadcasting company. The game places you in the role of an Internet troll where you make choices about the kind of messages to post online and on which methods to amplify distribution.
  • Twitter announced that it has publicly made available archives of Tweets and media that they believe have resulted from potentially state-backed information operations on their platform. The data sets include operations from Saudi Arabia, Spain, Egypt, Ecuador, among others.

Good reads…

  • Edward Snowden in his own words on why he became a whistleblower. Wired has the scoop on an excerpt from his new book – ‘Permanent Record’. 
  • Buzzfeed News has reported on how Instagram’s opioid recovery hashtags being used by drug dealers to connect with buyers via the comments section of posts. 

Studies…

  • The Quarter Billion Dollar Question: How is Disinformation Gaming Ad Tech? A new study by Global Disinformation Index reveals how big brands are unknowingly funding disinformation domains through programmatic advertising. The study found that Google serves 70% of the disinformation sites and provides 37% of the revenue (US$86 million annually).
  • Data and Society has released yet another excellent report on ‘Deepfakes and Cheapfakes’. The report calls for caution in relying on AI to solve deepfakes, as it could actually make things worse by concentrating more data and power in the hands of private corporations.

Events and Announcements

  • 16 October, 16:00 CEST @ EU DisinfoLab Webinar: ‘Digital Architectures, Social Engineering, and Networked Disinformation on Social Media’ by Michael Bossetta. Pre-register here
  • 21 October @ Permanent Representation of the Slovak Republic to the EU, Brussels: Disinformation in EU elections: The role of social media & technology trends. Register here
  • First Draft has launched a new free Training Academy that provides resources for journalists and editors investigating and reporting on online spaces.

Jobs

  • AFP is seeking an English-language editor with strong digital investigation skills to join its Johannesburg bureau as part of the international fact-checking team.
  • There’s a funded PhD opportunity with Bournemouth University for a project titled ‘Crowdsourcing reality: Using technology to combat the spread of misinformation’. 
  • Zinc Network is hiring a Disinformation Advisor.