La Verdadera Izquierda
Last week, we released our study detailing how La Verdadera Izquierda — a Spanish alternative blog — which spread disinformation and polarising content — had been using the Amazon Associates program to fund its activities.
In cooperation with EFE, we exposed coordinated Twitter and Facebook accounts that grew an audience by spreading disinformation and polarising content. This network also massively promoted Amazon Marketplace links, which in case of direct sales awarded the very same network with a commission fee.
Looking further into this, eldiario.es revealed that José Casado — a coordinator for the Spanish far-right VOX party — had bought one of these accounts that were already populated with followers: “I bought it because my account was blocked and it was for sale,” Casado confirmed in conversation with eldiario.es. This indicates evidence of a possible black market for Twitter accounts readily available for usage.
Trump, the online platforms, and content moderation: A timeline
In the wake of an extraordinary week, we have put together a timeline tracking the actions and/or responses from the platforms to moderate the US president’s online content.
- Twitter labelled Donald Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting with warnings, arguing that these tweets contained misleading information and violated the company’s civic integrity policies.
- In response to Twitter’s action and the personal abuse its staff received thereafter, we released a statement, highlighting how Twitter’s move is a good example of what can be done to empower users to make an informed opinion – something especially crucial in the context of the democratic process.
- Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg criticised Twitter’s decision, noting that online platforms shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth”.
- Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at increasing the ability of the US government to regulate social media platforms. More specifically, Trump’s order demands clarity on the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
- In the meantime, Twitter fact-checked the tweets of a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson for suggesting that COVID-19 had originated from the US.
- In the context of the widespread US protests against the murder of George Floyd, Twitter applied a warning label to a tweet by Trump, arguing it violated the company’s policies on “glorifying violence”.
- Responding to Twitter’s second move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy post, defending Facebook’s decision to not remove Trump’s post from its platform, while affirming that Facebook’s position is to “enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies”.
- Twitter applied a warning label to a replication of Donald Trump’s post that had been posted on the White House’s official Twitter account.
- The European Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová publicly came out in favour of Twitter’s moderation of Trump’s tweets.
- Meanwhile, in response to Facebook’s inertia, Facebook employees began to publicly denounce the company’s position and staged a virtual walkout.
- DFRLab – Popular hashtag hidden from TikTok during anti-police protests in the United States.
- Politico – Russia and China target US protests on social media.
- CNN – Yes, there is misinformation in Minneapolis. No, it’s not all Russia’s fault.
- BBC – George Floyd protests: Misleading footage and conspiracy theories spread online.
- Axios – Twitter suspends fake antifa account tied to white nationalists.
Digital Services Act
Yesterday, the European Commission launched the public consultation and roadmaps for the forthcoming Digital Services Act. It will revolve around 6 pillars: the single market, keeping users safe online, the liability regime, platforms’ gatekeeper power, online advertising, and platform workers.
- The roadmap on the ‘Digital Services Act: deepening the Internal Market and clarifying responsibilities for digital services’. Feedback period: 02/06/2020 – 30/06/2020
- The roadmap on the ‘Digital Services Act package: ex ante regulatory instrument of very large online platforms acting as gatekeepers’. Feedback period: 02/06/2020 – 30/06/2020
- The public consultation on the ‘Digital Services Act: deepening the Internal Market and clarifying responsibilities for digital services’ Feedback period: 02/06/2020 – 08/09/2020
In the news
- A recent BBC piece explores the human cost of COVID-19 misinformation, ranging from poisoning, arson and attacks, to stoking racial tensions. Additionally, in our Coronavirus Resource Hub, we have put together resources drawing attention to the impact of the infodemic upon society.
- Citing the WSJ, The Verge reported on how Facebook had ignored its own research showing that its algorithms contributed to online polarisation. In response, Facebook’s Guy Rosen penned a blog post refuting the WSJ’s story, claiming that “this particular story wilfully ignored critical facts that undermined its narrative”.
- According to an Open Democracy exposé, a controversial Armenian health news website funded by US taxpayers is spreading harmful COVID-19 misinformation, including claims that vaccines currently being developed are actually “biological weapons”.
- A BBC investigation has found that hundreds of fake or hijacked social media accounts have been pushing pro-Chinese government messages about the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Getting to the Source of Infodemics: It’s the Business Model – This new Ranking Digital Rights report argues that the business model of online platforms and the opaque algorithms that support them are the root cause of the platforms’ failure to stem the flow of COVID-19 mis/disinformation.
- Through looking at tweets related to COVID-19, views into public Facebook interactions, and other data, Kate Starbird’s new blog post details how social media and hyper-partisan online news media play complementary roles in the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
Events and Announcements
- Focusing on fact-checking, media literacy, research, and policy, The European Media Observatory has now been launched.
- 3 June, 15:00 CEST @ C19Dezinfoservis @ Transitions webinar – Tackling the COVID-19 Infodemic: How to create a fact-checking initiative from scratch.
- 3 June, 15:00 CEST @ European Foundation for Democracy webinar – COVID-19 & Disinformation – Quality journalism as a remedy?
- 4 June, 14:00 CEST @ The Beacon Project webinar – The Italian Infodemic: Lessons from fact-checking on COVID-19.
- First Draft is hiring a Spanish-speaking Investigative Researcher to be based in New York.
- The Center for Democracy and Technology is looking for a Senior Technologist and Director of European Affairs for its Brussels office.