Disinfo Update 04/11/2019

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Twitter: Democracy Defender or Pressure Applier?

Amidst Facebook’s ongoing battle to defend its choices on political ads, last week Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will stop all political ads and issues ads from November onwards. Dorsey ended his thread – arguably by taking a swipe at Facebook – in saying that, “this isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle”. Such sentiments were recently emphasised by 250 Facebook employees in an open letter to their management in which they argued that “free speech and paid speech are not the same thing”. In response to all of this, First Draft has written a piece highlighting the potential shortcomings of Twitter’s new policy. 

EU Code of Practice on Disinformation

The self-assessments of the signatories of the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation came out last week, and here’s what the European Commission had to say about them:

  • Researchers and fact checkers have been granted episodic and arbitrary access to data from the signatories. This was reiterated in a joint statement by Commissioners King, Jourova, and Gabriel, who noted that “access to data provided so far still does not correspond to the needs of independent researchers”.
  • In that vein, the Commission expressed the need for a mechanism allowing organisations to cooperate with the platforms, including via relevant and privacy-compliant access to datasets for research purposes.
  • With regard to measuring the effectiveness of the Code, the Commission noted that the assessments would have benefitted from more detailed and qualitative insights, as well as more impact indicators. Indeed, Commissioner King did assert that there remained a “disconnect” between the claims of progress from the platforms and “the lived experience”.

Now that the signatories have submitted their self-assessments, it’s up to the Commission to present its own comprehensive assessment in early 2020 after the submission of two other assessments (one by ERGA and another by an independent consultancy).

In the news

  • A week ago we reported on how a Polish troll farm named Cat@Net had been using fake (but rather believable) identities to polarise the Polish online public sphere. At that time we didn’t have any English content, but since then, The Guardian has reported on it.
  • Last Wednesday, the German government announced new plans to deepen the NetzDG law. The measures envisage a more proactive role for online platforms in reporting and taking down illegal content, and include the establishment of a new federal police unit to handle the submissions from online platforms.

Good reads

Studies

Events and Announcements

Jobs

  • The International Center for Journalists seeks an OSINT Researcher for its Organized Crime and Corruption project.