Fresh steps taken by Twitter, Facebook to contain US election manipulation

Twitter says it’ll work to curb reach of ‘state-affiliated media’ on platform, while Facebook removes users in Romania posing as American supporters of Trump.

US election manipulation

Twitter and Facebook on Thursday announced moves to thwart efforts to deceive or divide voters as the US nears a contentious presidential election.

Twitter unveiled new steps to prevent the spread of content from “state-affiliated media” used to advance a government’s political agenda — a move affecting key outlets from Russia and China.

Containing the political agenda of state-affiliated media

Facebook, meanwhile, said it took down accounts running a deceptive campaign out of Romania pretending to be Americans supporting US President Donald Trump.

Read more: Russia and China interfering in American Elections: Biden

The network targeted the US with posts about the upcoming presidential election; the Trump campaign, conservative ideology, Christian beliefs and the far-right organization Qanon linked to conspiracy theories, according to Facebook.

San Francisco-based Twitter said it would add new labels to state-affiliated media accounts and would “no longer amplify” their tweets through its recommendation systems, in the latest move to identify and limit the spread of government-led influence campaigns.

A Twitter spokesperson said outlets affected by the new policy include Russian-based Sputnik and RT and China’s Xinhua, but did not provide a full list.

“Unlike independent media, state-affiliated media frequently use their news coverage as a means to advance a political agenda,” Twitter explained in a released statement.

Twitter said the decision would not affect “state-financed media organizations with editorial independence,” specifically citing the British-based BBC and US-based National Public Radio.

Read more: Trump’s questionable coronavirus theories: posts removed by Facebook and Twitter

Twitter’s announcement follows a similar action by Facebook earlier this year which labeled content from media which are editorially controlled by governments.

Power of disguised government campaigns

The moves come amid concerns over campaigns by governments aimed at influencing elections and public sentiment in other countries through media outlets that disguise their true origins.

State-led influence campaigns were prominent on social media during the 2016 US elections and have been seen around the world.

Read more: Biden, Trump to make nomination speeches from home?

A recent report by Oxford University researchers found disinformation and conspiracy theories spread by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey — all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.

Twitter also plans new authentication labels for “key government officials” authorized to speak on behalf of the state.

“We believe this is an important step so that when people see an account discussing geopolitical issues from another country, they have context on its national affiliation and are better informed about who they represent,” the statement said.

No place on social media for ‘inauthentic’ behavior

Facebook removed 35 Facebook accounts, three pages, and 88 Instagram accounts as part of an ongoing fight against “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” according to security policy head Nathaniel Gleicher.

“The people behind this network used fake accounts to pose as Americans, amplify and comment on their own content, and manage pages including some posing as President Trump fan pages,” Gleicher said.

Read more: Facebook, Twitter take shots at Trump’s ‘misinformation’

The Facebook security team determined that the activity originated in Romania and focused on the US.

“We found this network as part of our investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of the 2020 election in the US,” Gleicher said.

The network often reposted stories by US conservative news networks and from the Trump campaign, according to Facebook.

Facebook pages in the campaign had about 1,600 followers, while about 7,200 people followed one or more of its Instagram accounts, the California-based internet giant reported.

Coordinated deception such as this “blurs the live between healthy public debate and manipulation,” Gleicher said while briefing reporters.

Read more: Facebook CEO clarifies: ‘no deal of any kind’ with Trump

“We can only tackle one piece of what is a whole-of-society challenge; it is increasingly clear no single organization can handle this alone.”

He echoed a call from Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for political leaders to establish clear rules regarding what kinds of contents or behaviors should not be tolerated by online platforms.

“Even though it is hard to pin down motive, the behavior still violates our policies and we can take down the content,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what side they are on.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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