It pays to be inauthentic

Under the spotlight last week was a new NATO StratCom investigation that revealed how social media companies are failing to combat inauthentic behaviour on their platforms. The investigators were able to purchase social media engagement for a mere €300. They noted that, while this strategy can be used to politically manipulate, 90% of their purchased engagements on social media were actually tied to commercial purposes. This report couldn’t have come at a better time. Ahead of the report’s release, EU Commissioner Věra Jourová spoke to Politico, reaffirming that “it cannot be as cheap and as easy as it is today to organise targeted manipulation campaigns and run them on social media,” when asked about the effectiveness of self-regulation in preventing manipulation. She also expressed the need for more transparency on algorithms and access to data for researchers.

Secondary Infektion vol 2.0 – UK Trade Leaks

After Graphika’s report had initially highlighted the similarities between the leak of the unredacted UK-US trade documents and Secondary InfektionReddit indeed came out to confirm that it had removed 61 accounts believed to be linked to the Russian information operation. Politico has argued these developments have further exposed the weakness of the UK’s electoral system in its inability to hedge against disinformation attempts to sow division. Basic updates such as more transparency on who’s funding political ads would reduce much of the threat, according to the UK Electoral Commission’s director of regulation. It’s worth mentioning that it was only a few weeks ago that the UK government came under fire for refusing to publish a report on Russian interference in British politics. Let’s wait and see what this report brings in the new year…

In the news

  • new Sleepwalkers podcast explores how deepfakes distort our perceptions of reality and how they’re increasingly weaponised to harass women. This comes at the moment of Camille François expressing her growing concern about the serious threat of “readfakes”, i.e. believable and engaging text created by AI-text generators applied at scale to flood the internet with garbage.
  • A new media literacy game has arrived on the scene — Cranky Uncle, which aims to “inoculate” users against climate change mis— and disinformation they might encounter by purposely exposing them to a small dose of it. You can read a short interview with Cranky Uncle’s creator here.

Good reads

  • Coda Story has reported on how anti-vaxxers are hijacking sexual assault and abortion rights hashtags to get around Instagram’s new controls and spread their message. In this context, a sexual consent hashtag, #idonotconsent, was particularly heavily co-opted — around three-quarters of November’s posts had an anti-vaccine agenda.
  • Verge’s Adi Robertson has put together a great guide for how to fight lies, tricks, and chaos online, which encompasses a four-step process to follow, including when to be worried, how to check out links, how to find the context, and how to weigh the evidence.


  • Oxford Internet Institute has released a study on the significance of junk news and information sharing during the UK 2019 general election. Among their findings, the researchers note that “the most viral junk news stories in our dataset aimed to discredit the mainstream news media, with few covering party policies or political agendas”.
  • The Guardian has uncovered a network that was using some of Facebook’s largest far-right pages to create a commercial enterprise that harvested anti-Islamic hate for profit and influenced politics across the globe.

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