April 12, 2021

Decoder Newsletter: Social Media Policy At Home and Abroad

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins & Viviana Padelli

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. Know someone who might be interested? Ask them to sign up! 

  • Policy updates: Multiple platforms introduced some fairly innovative policy changes last week. Facebook’s was probably the most straightforward, with the company saying it would label posts in news feeds as coming from public officials, fan pages, or satire pages. Twitch announced an update to its hateful conduct policy where actions off Twitch will be taken into account when determining how to address cases of severe misconduct. Intel had perhaps the most interesting announcement in launching ‘Bleep’, an app primarily directed at gamers that allows users to select how much hate speech they want to see and then redacts a feed accordingly. Twitter has also introduced a new metric called the ‘Violative View Rate’ which will measure how many views videos that violate content guidelines received. 
  • Fake engagement, global politics: The Guardian has spoken to Sophie Zhang, the Facebook data scientist who made headlines in September for publishing a scathing post on Facebook’s internal message board on the company’s failure to respond to social media manipulation by global political leaders. The article offers an in-depth look at Facebook’s inaction in the face of Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior worldwide, and the consequences of this inaction. 
  • Democracy in decline: In a personal essay, Buzzfeed tech reporter Pranav Dixit deals with a theme parallel to Zhang’s, offering a heart-wrenching account of covering social media’s role in the decline of Indian democracy. The essay delves into the inaction and silence of American social media companies, and the differences between their policies at home and those abroad.
  • Ad targeting trouble: A new investigation by the Markup has found that while Google employs a blocklist to hide YouTube hate videos from advertisers, the list is full of holes. After compiling a list of 86 hate-related terms with experts, the Markup found that fewer than a third of the terms were blocked by Google Ads, with “white power” and “racial holy war” being among those allowed. The Markup also found advertisers are blocked from targeting terms like “Black Power” or “Black Lives Matter.” Buzzfeed reports that Facebook continued to label people as ‘interested in militias’ for advertisers, despite banning violent extremist groups, and Media Matters for America reports that YouTube continues to host QAnon channels despite a ban, and appears to be garnering ad revenue from the videos.
  • Twitter archive questions: Twitter told Politico it will not allow the National Archives to make a record of former president Donald Trump’s tweets available on the platform, since it has permanently suspended him. Politico called the move, “the latest display of Silicon Valley’s power over communications channels used by the U.S. government.” The tweets will still be available on the Trump presidential library website.
  • Facebook sued: The group Muslim Advocates is suing Facebook for misrepresenting how it is combatting hate groups and specifically anti-Muslim bigotry. What is most interesting about the case is that the civil rights group is using the argument that Facebook is lying about its business practices to essentially try to work around the Section 230 immunity granted to the company.
  • Election integrity brigade: A leaked video in Texas shows a self-identified GOP official seeking an ‘election integrity brigade’ for precincts that are mostly home to Black and Latino voters. In the video, the man cites these areas as places where election fraud is occurring, using racist theories of election fraud that were propagated on social media by conservative figures. The move comes as state lawmakers are considering a bill that restricts voters’ rights.
  • Research: A new Morning Consult poll has found that Asian Americans feel social media companies are doing a poor job moderating hate against AAPI individuals. More than half of those surveyed have also seen an uptick in online harassment since the pandemic began.The Pew Research Center released its analysis of social media use in 2021, finding that roughly 70% of Americans say they use social media, and that YouTube saw the most significant growth of any platform during the pandemic. A new study published in ‘Communication Research’ looked at perceptions of mis and disinformation among Europeans. It found that people distinguish between mis and disinformation, and feel that misinformation is more prevalent than disinformation. HKS’ Shorenstein Center has produced a special edition of their ‘Misinformation Review’ focusing on misinformation in a historical context. The podcast ‘Capital Isn’t’ looks at the issue of access journalism and tech in its latest episode, speaking to Kara Swisher. 

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