Disinfo News and Updates

  • Facebook and Twitter offer more data to academics. Twitter has launched an Academic Research product track on their new API. Approved applicants will get access to Twitter’s public archive and receive a higher monthly tweet volume cap. Interested academics and developers can apply on Twitter’s developer websiteTwitter will not grant access to independent researchers or journalists: applicants must be affiliated with an academic institution. Meanwhile Facebook has also announced a new data package for academics and researchers, on the targeting of political ads in the lead-up to the US presidential election. Candidates can apply through the Facebook Open Research & Transparency (FORT) platform.
  • Google’s new centre of content regulation expertise. Based in Ireland, the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC) is intended as a “regional hub” for Google experts working on the topics of illegal and harmful content, and a place for them to exchange more closely with policymakers, researchers, and regulators.
  • The re-decentralised social web. A wave of social media networks are being built using blockchain and other decentralised technologies that allow them to store and host content without a central authority.
  • “A battle for legitimacy through narratives”. In countries across the Middle East, state-sanctioned influencers service the dictatorships that are simultaneously surveiling journalists and restricting internet access.

EU Policy Monitor

In the EU Institutions

  • Code of Practice Covid Monitoring Programme Extended. Last week the Commission published the most recent reports on actions taken in December 2020 by the signatories of the Code of Practice on Disinformation under the COVID-19 monitoring and reporting programme. It also announced it will extend this programme. 
  • Jourova calls on platforms to demonetise disinformation. The Commission has urged major digital platforms to take measures to demonetise disinformation online. Věra Jourová, the Commission’s Vice-President for values and transparency, reiterated the commitments of the EU Democracy Action Plan and stated that disinformation should not be given a “prominent place” online.
  • European Court of Auditors 2021 Agenda. According to its recently published work programme, the European Union’s independent external auditor will review, inter alia, the EU Action Plan against disinformation “in in terms of its relevance, the results achieved so far, as well as its accountability framework.”

In Member States

  • Romania. After a man opened a fake Facebook account to publish naked images of his ex-girlfriend, Romania’s High Court has ruled that using someone else’s identity to create a fake social media account constitutes a crime.
  • Poland. Albicla, Poland’s recently launched ‘censorship-free’ social media platform has had somewhat of a rocky start.
  • Hungary. Hungary is preparing its platform regulation to hold “major platforms” accountable for suspending user accounts. Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga has raised concerns of ‘shadow banning’, accusing Facebook of stifling “Christian, conservative, right-wing opinions”.
  • Italy. The Italian data protection authority has given Facebook 15 days to clarify its policies for protecting minors on Facebook and Instagram, following a 10-year-old girl’s death related to a TikTok challenge.
  • France. An amendment to France’s anti-separatism bill would impose an obligation of means on platforms. The bill would now also exclude platforms that are used to exchange or sell goods and services from the scope of application. Also in France, the audiovisual regulator (the CSA) has sent, for the second year, its “fake news” questionnaire to platforms.

NED Report: The Road Ahead: Mapping Civil Society Responses to Disinformation

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has released a new report “The Road Ahead: Mapping Civil Society Responses to Disinformation“, by Samantha Bradshaw and Lisa-Maria Neudert. Their paper draws on a mapping exercise, key interviews, and a survey to analyse how leading civil society organisations are responding to disinformation and to discuss how to overcome barriers to their work. The report makes important observations and provides recommendations for funders and other stakeholders, including the need to increase access to data for CSOs, and the need for more coordination, knowledge-sharing, and flexible funding.  Among their findings the authors state: “The sphere devoted to combating disinformation must continue to evolve. Critical to this evolution will be civil society access to data, funding, and skills necessary for the next generation of disinformation responses. The strength of these responses will be integral to shoring up democracy at a time when society is becoming increasingly digital.” These fiindings are deeply aligned with EU DisinfoLab’s recent report, focused on the European context, “The Many Faces Fighting Disinformation“.

Read the full working paper

Research, Studies, Long Reads…

  • Dr Richard Fletcher of the Reuters Institute makes the distinction between ‘echo chambers’ and algorithmically-shaped ‘filter bubbles’ in “The truth behind filter bubbles: Bursting some myths”.
  • Dr. Kaiping Chen and colleagues examined Covid-19 related conspiracy theories and debunking narratives on two major Chinese social media platforms. Their findings offer lessons for countering conspiracy theories.
  • Mozilla has released their 2020 Internet Health Report, which draws on interviews with over 100 people on what can be done to make the Internet healthier. Topics explored include: data, artificial intelligence and racial justice; data and labor in the gig economy; corporate and algorithmic transparency. 
  • A report from the CLTC, the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at UC Berkeley, suggests that journalists do not take sufficient action to protect themselves online in part due to the fact that much security advice is difficult for them to understand or put into practice.

Events and Announcements

  • ICYMI – Last week Twitter launched ‘Birdwatch’ a feature that will allow users to flag and provide context to tweets that they believe are misleading.
  • 3 February – DFR Lab and GeoTech Center are holding an episode of the GeoTech Hour on the impacts of tech on propagating misinformation at increasing velocity and volume. Register here
  • 4 February –  UK release date of the new book by Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People. Pre-order it here.
  • 2 March – ACT is hosting a conversation with team behind the film “The Social Dilemma” and leading media policy thinkers. Info and registration here.
  • 24 – 26 March – CfP will hold “The First Annual Conference of a Platform Governance Research Network”. (Deadline for submissions is February 22nd). More info here.