June 1, 2021

Decoder Newsletter: Facebook Is Failing To Enforce Its Policies

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins & Viviana Padelli

Good morning and a happy Tuesday to everyone. We hope your long weekend was restful. In this week’s Decoder, we look at how Facebook’s failure to enforce its policies is harming transgender youth (happy Pride everyone!). A new report digs into how anti-vaccination groups have been profiting throughout the pandemic and Twitter is trialling some new misinformation labels. Know someone who might be interested in a weekly roundup of digital deception news? Ask them to sign up! 

  • Facebook’s harmful anti-transgender ads: As anti-transgender bills sweep across statehouses around the country, Decode Democracy found numerous harmful anti-transgender ads running on Facebook since the beginning of the year that appear to violate the company’s policies on hate speech and disinformation. The piece confirms a continuing trend first reported by Media Matters for America, and supports GLAAD’s assertion in its Social Media Safety Index that Facebook isn’t doing enough to enforce its policies and protect LGBTQ+ users.
  • Pandemic profiteers: The Center for Countering Digital Hate has released a new report on how anti-vaxx groups have profited during the pandemic. The accompanying thread from CCDH explains how Paycheck Protection Program loans, and revenue from Big Tech have led to many of these profits.
  • New Twitter misinformation labels: Twitter has said that it is working on three levels of misinformation warning labels. The labels do not include a notification that information is fake or false, which received some criticism. However, Twitter’s Yoel Roth responded that the move is deliberate, and meant to encourage users to rethink their tweets, rather than engage in defensiveness.
  • Michael Flynn coup: Former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared to suggest that supporters of former President Donald Trump should stage a Myanmar-style coup. The comments came at an event in Dallas attended by proponents of both the QAnon and Big Lie conspiracy theories. An account used by Flynn on Parler has since walked back the comments. The comments came as a new poll has suggested that 15 percent of Americans believe that “patriots may have to resort to violence” to restore rightful order to the country.
  • For the People Act: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that the Senate will vote on the S.1 ‘For the People Act’ this month. In the LA Times, Decode Democracy’s Ann Ravel, who is a former Federal Election Commission (FEC) chair, argues that the Senate needs to pass S.1 in order to break deadlock within the FEC so the organization can enforce election law. In Slate, Guy-Uriel Charles and Lawrence Lessig argue that another voting rights bill, H.R. 4, is actually a trojan horse, as the Supreme Court will find it unconstitutional if it is passed instead of S.1. President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pass the For the People Act.
  • Voter suppression: Democrats in Texas temporarily killed a voter suppression measure Sunday by staging a walkout. The law would have restricted early voting hours, given broad authority to partisan poll watchers, and added new ID requirements for voting by mail. Governor Greg Abbott has tweeted that he may call a special session to revive the bill. Popular Info has an article looking into the bill’s defeat, its potential revival, and some of its more insidious clauses.
  • Jan 6 commission: A bipartisan effort to create a commission to look into the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol failed Friday due to Republican opposition. The bill needed 60 votes to defeat a procedural filibuster, but only got 54. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, however, has said that he could force a second vote on the bill.
  • Global influence operations: Facebook has released a report on influence operations from 2017-2020. In the report, Facebook notes that the U.S. is among the top five sources for influence operations, as Protocol reports. Facebook’s Ben Nimmo has a good thread summarizing the report.
  • Superspreaders: Facebook announced that it would be taking action against people who repeatedly share misinformation. The move has long been lobbied for by disinformation researchers and activists, who say it’s necessary to stop the spread of misinformation. However, as with any new Facebook policy, doubts about its enforcement remain.
  • Free expression?: Tensions between Twitter and India’s ruling government remained high, after Twitter labeled a tweet from a ruling party spokesperson with a ‘manipulated media’ tag. Following the tag, Delhi police visited Twitter’s offices, leading the company to express concern for its employees in India. Continuing the trend of countries challenging social media companies over issues of free expression, Russia is also increasing demands that social media companies remove content it deems illegal, and restore pro-Kremlin content, or face restrictions. In Honduras, Rest of World writes about a new report that alleges social media abuse by politicians.
  • Silencing: A new decision from the Facebook Oversight Board finds that in removing content in Russia it found to be bullying, Facebook failed to consider the comments within the political context of the conversation, and thus failed to protect freedom of expression. The case could prove relevant to instances where activists are silenced by content moderation. On a similar theme, Instagram also announced that it would be altering its algorithm after accusations of censorship against Palestinians, Evelyn Douek has an analysis of the change.
  • Research: For those interested, Disinfodex is a database of publicly available information about disinformation campaigns. It is supported by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, the Miami Foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A new paper in Information, Communication and Society looks at how Russia’s Internet Research Agency was able to capitalize on American political fault lines. The German Marshall Fund of the United States has found engagement with deceptive sites on Facebook and Twitter dropped at the beginning of this year. A report from DFRLab has found that language of the QAnon movement has largely disappeared from mainstream internet following major tech moderation. In the LA Times, Susan Benesch of the Dangerous Speech Project writes that in order to judge posts that will incite violence, social media companies need to look at responses, rather than just the content.

Produced by Decode Democracy, the Decoder is a newsletter to help you track the most important news, research, and analysis of deceptive digital politics. Each week, we’ll send you coverage of the webs of entities that seek to manipulate public opinion, their political spending ties, and the actors working to safeguard our democracy. We value your privacy and will not send you unwanted emails. If you wish to limit your emails to just our weekly Decoder news roundup, please email info@decode.org.

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