Social media companies take opposing stances on political advertising

Ahead of the US presidential elections in 2020 and following growing concerns over disinformation campaigns and freedom of expression on the internet, social media companies have started to demonstrate their commitments and efforts towards maintaining democracy and a fair election.

Last week, Twitter made the decision to ban all political ads globally, as announced by CEO Jack Dorsey. The CEO claimed that “paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people,” as he explained the company’s stance on political advertising.

According to Twitter’s CFO Ned Segal, the ban will have little effect on the company’s revenue, as he said Twitter made less than $3 million from political ads in last year’s cycle, which equals roughly 0.1% of its $3 billion in total 2018 revenue. “This decision was based on principle, not money,” he said.

The new policy will not only affect politicians and candidates, but also advocacy groups, including different entities from various points on the political spectrum “that advocate for legislative issues of national importance” such as abortion and gun control. Nevertheless, some content will be allowed, such as advertisements that promote voter registration.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explains what motivated the change in policy

Some campaigners have said the Twitter ban could make it more difficult for campaigners to reach a younger and more diverse group of voters, who consume social media on a more frequent basis.

While the announcement was applauded by popular figures like Democrat congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said that “not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make”, it was criticised by others, including the current president Trump campaign.

However, it is important to note that the ban only applies for paid content — not organic posts by users. According to Shannon McGregor, a researcher on political communication, social media and public opinion, the ban policy will not make much difference to the Trump campaign: “The last person who needs Twitter ads is Trump. My research indicates that upwards of 80% of Trump tweets end up in news stories, earning him massive amounts of media exposure,” the researcher wrote in the Guardian.

Facebook takes an opposing stance

A few days before Twitter announced the ban policy, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg had made clear that his company has no fact-checking tools for political campaigns and no plans to implement any in the near future, claiming that Facebook is a platform for freedom of expression.

“I believe strongly and I believe that history supports that free expression has been important for driving progress and building more inclusive societies around the world,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg’s announcement follows the news that Facebook agreed to pay a £500,000 fine to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Officer due to its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, linked to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Advertising is the highest source of revenue for Facebook. In 2017, nearly 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from digital advertisements, of which political advertising is a sub-segment.

Facebook estimates 2.7 billion people around the world are using its platforms: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger each month, with more than two billion using at least one of the platforms daily.

Social media advertising is growing overall, especially mobile advertising. Last year, social media advertising revenue grew 30.6%. Social media advertising includes all ad revenue generated by social networks or business networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Ad spending in the social media advertising segment amounts to US$89,905m in 2019.

The need for regulatory bodies to step in

The question of freedom of expression in social media is indeed a controversial one: in the case of advertising, this is paid content promoted to amplify the reach of its audience, not merely an organic post which has no financial implication for any user.

The announcement of the new policies on social media sparked discussion around the self-regulating mechanisms of social media companies, and questions the role of regulatory bodies in imposing stricter policies and regulating the vast digital advertising market.

“The problem is that companies shouldn’t be self-regulating. And the solution isn’t to ban political ads or allow candidates to put money behind lies. The answer is a combination of clear-cut rules and enforcement mechanisms that will end the Wild West era of digital advertising,” said Bawadden Sayed, a spokesman for the progressive campaign-finance-reform group End Citizens United to Business Insider.

“In an ideal situation, the FEC would be a functioning body that could issue some kind of regulations on what you can and can’t say,” added Amanda Litman, the director of the group Run for Something, referring to the Federal Election Commission, the independent regulatory agency whose purpose is to enforce campaign finance law in the United States.

Keep an eye on the Fake News & Responsible Journalism at the Malta AI & Blockchain Summit, hosted by the World Ethical Data Forum

More information here: https://maltablockchainsummit.com/events/ai-bc-summit-winter-edition/conferences/

Follow us on @cassiopeia_ltd on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

Preparing for 2019 EU Elections in the age of of fake news

Preparing for 2019 EU Elections in the age of fake news

In May 2019, the next European Parliament elections will take place. These will be the first such elections since a member has decided to leave the Union, while an ever-growing number of politicians with contrasting visions of national and international affairs disrupt/sway the public vote.

Every five years, over 500 million Europeans head to the ballot box to form one of the most important assemblies in the world. Seats are awarded according to the proportion of votes from member countries. The European Parliament governs the EU, approving annual spending plans, deciding on the leadership of the European Commission, as well as voting on trade agreements and matters of public interest.

The rise of populism across the continent over the recent years, fueled largely by nationalist speech, has created a very polarised political scene. In the UK, tiresome Brexit negotiations have led to a scenario where we are closer to a second referendum than an agreement between the relevant parties.

Such a tense environment promises to deliver a campaign characterised by two-way attacks and charged with propaganda tools, such as fake news and misinformation spread across social media.

Unfortunately, this crisis of trustworthiness is not confined to politics: the fake news phenomenon has helped spur a lack of trust in journalism and mainstream media, which has been repeatedly undermined by political figures in the efforts to promote their own agendas. This has resulted in a weakening of fundamental democratic institutions and necessitates a re-shaping of political strategy in order to re-establish confidence.

The current situation calls for urgent solutions to tackle the harmful effects of social media and other online misuse for political gain and abuse of power. Within such a poisonous online environment, people feel torn about who to believe and feel wronged by the lack of accountability that allows powerful figures to get away with lies and libellous claims.

Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

In light of this problem, innovative tech company Right of Reply has designed RoR Politics to counter misinformation and political propaganda online. RoR Politics is a platform that integrates political parties’ statements to allow responses from both ‘sides’ to be embedded in the same place as the original content, with the aim of establishing healthy political debate. RoR Politics is convenient and easy to navigate, making truthful information easy to reach, preventing bias and social media bubbles.

In the same way that social media has allowed a low-cost, fast and convenient means of communication, RoR Politics hopes to counter the malicious effect by creating a platform that is free and available for the general public to use, exploring debates that are usually exclusively accessed by to members of parliament.

Information displayed on RoR Politics is verified by an independent body, a partner of RoR with no political affiliation to ensure balance. More than enabling a fact-checking mechanism, RoR Politcs aims to create a first-of-its-kind platform where diverging political matters can be debated in a constructive matter and ultimately, fake news can be debunked.

Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply commented: “Right of Reply is a socially aware company concerned about fairness and justice in all spheres. We harness innovative technologies to counter unfair content online and allow users to make informed decisions based on the truth. RoR Politics opens the gate to an era of accountability and truth in politics, re-establishing the balance of power in democratic societies in a time of weakening democratic institutions.”

Right of Reply is developing a range of platforms designed to improve debate online and manage online reputation. Visit the page https://rightofreply.news

Fact or Fiction? Social media as news source increases spread of fake news

Research shows that social media has become the primary news source for most people. Whilst social media represents hyperconnectivity, its mechanisms allow for widespread misinformation and the rise of fake news.

With more than 3 billion users worldwide, there is no doubt social media represents a revolution in the way we communicate with one another. It may be a convenient, easy and cheap way to access information and stay up-to-date — but it is also a minefield of misinformation and fake news.

As social media has become the primary means for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, people are casting newspapers and traditional media aside, instead keeping themselves updated via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

In the U.S., 67 percent of survey participants say they get their news from social media in general, with 45 percent reporting getting it from Facebook alone. The situation in Europe is a little more encouraging but still gives cause for concern. In the EU, 13 percent of consumers say they stay up to date on European politics via social media, with the figure rising to 16 percent regarding domestic politics. In Sweden and Denmark, social media serves as the main source of information for 30 percent of consumers.

This is a particularly worrying problem in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Nigeria, which are among the biggest markets for WhatsApp and social networks.

During the recent presidential elections in Brazil, a study analysed 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp and found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information.

In India, where viral fake news has caused chaos and fatal incidents, WhatsApp is set to run TV advertisements to warn users about the problem. The campaign consists of 60-second films where characters go through real life scenarios and demonstrates how to use WhatsApp tools such as how to leave groups that could be propagating misinformation, and how to block unknown senders.

The campaign follows serious criticism of the platform from the Indian government and aims to create wider awareness about the problem ahead of the general elections to be held in India next year.

Even in developed economies and solid democracies, fake news is understood as a problem by the vast majority of the populations. Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

The underlying issue with using social media as a news source is that it blinds people to a plural discussion, says Matteo Flora, digital identity expert: “Most people are not used to looking into political debates anymore and are confined inside their own social media bubbles, always consuming the same kind of information.”

A unilateral news diet leads to unhealthy debate and alienation, so it is important to build platforms online where social media users are exposed to different views and don’t end up victims of algorithms that perpetually feed their timelines with stories only of a certain type.

The solution? Social platforms that allow multiple voices

Users are indeed not short of tools to check information themselves, but in the digital era, convenience rules, so building tools that integrate content into one single platform is an efficient and user-friendly way of tackling fake news.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify it in the first place, it is even harder to address it. In these situations, we require smart and holistic solutions that will preserve freedom of expression, privacy but also counter misleading content online,” says Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply.

“Technology is able to help increase media literacy when harnessed effectively. Right of Reply is developing a series of innovative apps and platforms to allow open debate online and fight misinformation.”

In this hyperconnected society, it makes sense that the solution to misinformation on the virtual sphere is a collective effort by technology, social media companies and regulators.

As we come across problems and crises like fake news and misinformation in social media, it gives cause for deep reflection on the implications of technology in our lives. Nevertheless, such challenges can be used as a catalyst to create a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environment.

Right of Reply is a company developing innovative solutions for online reputation management, political discourse and social media communications.

Fact or Fiction? Social media as news source increases spread of fake news

Research shows that social media has become the primary news source for most people. Whilst social media represents hyperconnectivity, its mechanisms allow for widespread misinformation and the rise of fake news.

With more than 3 billion users worldwide, there is no doubt social media represents a revolution in the way we communicate with one another. It may be a convenient, easy and cheap way to access information and stay up-to-date — but it is also a minefield of misinformation and fake news.

As social media has become the primary means for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, people are casting newspapers and traditional media aside, instead keeping themselves updated via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

In the U.S., 67 percent of survey participants say they get their news from social media in general, with 45 percent reporting getting it from Facebook alone. The situation in Europe is a little more encouraging but still gives cause for concern. In the EU, 13 percent of consumers say they stay up to date on European politics via social media, with the figure rising to 16 percent regarding domestic politics. In Sweden and Denmark, social media serves as the main source of information for 30 percent of consumers.

This is a particularly worrying problem in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Nigeria, which are among the biggest markets for WhatsApp and social networks.

During the recent presidential elections in Brazil, a study analysed 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp and found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information.

In India, where viral fake news has caused chaos and fatal incidents, WhatsApp is set to run TV advertisements to warn users about the problem. The campaign consists of 60-second films where characters go through real life scenarios and demonstrates how to use WhatsApp tools such as how to leave groups that could be propagating misinformation, and how to block unknown senders.

The campaign follows serious criticism of the platform from the Indian government and aims to create wider awareness about the problem ahead of the general elections to be held in India next year.

Even in developed economies and solid democracies, fake news is understood as a problem by the vast majority of the populations. Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

The underlying issue with using social media as a news source is that it blinds people to a plural discussion, says Matteo Flora, digital identity expert: “Most people are not used to looking into political debates anymore and are confined inside their own social media bubbles, always consuming the same kind of information.”

A unilateral news diet leads to unhealthy debate and alienation, so it is important to build platforms online where social media users are exposed to different views and don’t end up victims of algorithms that perpetually feed their timelines with stories only of a certain type.

The solution? Social platforms that allow multiple voices

Users are indeed not short of tools to check information themselves, but in the digital era, convenience rules, so building tools that integrate content into one single platform is an efficient and user-friendly way of tackling fake news.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify it in the first place, it is even harder to address it. In these situations, we require smart and holistic solutions that will preserve freedom of expression, privacy but also counter misleading content online,” says Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply.

“Technology is able to help increase media literacy when harnessed effectively. Right of Reply is developing a series of innovative apps and platforms to allow open debate online and fight misinformation.”

In this hyperconnected society, it makes sense that the solution to misinformation on the virtual sphere is a collective effort by technology, social media companies and regulators.

As we come across problems and crises like fake news and misinformation in social media, it gives cause for deep reflection on the implications of technology in our lives. Nevertheless, such challenges can be used as a catalyst to create a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environment.

Right of Reply is a company developing innovative solutions for online reputation management, political discourse and social media communications.

The internet’s darker side: Fake accounts and fake news threaten to poison the online environment

Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to imagine life without the internet. The virtual world has grown to be a seemingly infinite series of platforms where governments, corporations and individuals all come together; where we can find any information we desire and quick answers to most, if not all, of our questions. And within the vast online realm, social media has become the place where interpersonal interactions happen.

The internet was designed as an open environment. However, the concept was ambitious at the time and society has shaped it as a platform to share and access knowledge and information. In this light, monitoring and regulating such online content may seem to contradict the original principle of the internet, but this is the very thing that ended up happening.

As society becomes progressively more digital, we are facing challenges that once would have been unthinkable — and the solutions remain yet to be discovered. The nature of the internet is vulnerable to the creation of misleading content intended to influence people, which has resulted in the phenomenon of fake news. The huge viral effect fake news and fake accounts, which spreads particularly on social media, is pervading all aspects of today society.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify them in the first place, it is evern harder to address them. Fake news has become a crucial problem in society, effecting individual reputations, warping political elections and public opinion, ultimately threating democracy.” said Stefania Barbaglio, Director at PR Agency Cassiopeia Services.

Research by the European Commission showed that, 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

Fake news is as much as a problem as fake accounts:

Research from Indiana University Network Science Institute indicates that between 9 to 15% of active Twitter accounts are not real, meaning it is very likely that less than 90% of current social media users are humans.

During the six months that ended in March 2018, Facebook disabled a total of almost 1.3 billion accounts that they were deemed to be fake. Out of the remaining accounts Facebook estimates between 3 and 4 percent are likely to be fake. This amounts to between 66 million and 88 million accounts in the network.

Fake News: A political weapon

Social media has become the primary means of communication and interaction for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, limiting the effect of the impact of mainstream and broadcast media.

With widespread political mis-information from the political realm on the social media , voters are increasigngly vulnerable to being manipulated by information fabricated to fit into propaganda.

The problem is indeed both dangerous and subtle, and the solutions to which are still being in the making. In the UK, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee warned that the UK is facing a “democratic crisis”, with voters being manipulated by “pernicious views”. The Committee highlights the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans”.

Populism and fake news together represent the start of slippery slope towards greater problems of misinformation. In fact, Populist figures address societal concerns with high emotional appeal. The current wave of populists rejects traditional democratic values and globalisation. Fake news is one of their weapons to destroy ‘the establishment’ and turn people against democratic values.

A study from Stanford University analysed the 2016 US elections and found that there had been 115 fake pro-Trump stories on Facebook shared 30 million times, compared to 41 fake pro-Clinton stories shared 7.6 million times.

Harmful Social Media

Recent events have shown that social media’s biggest marke, developing countries — are the ones that have been experiencing the worst headache.

In June, India witnessed the murder of the eight people after rumours about alleged child kidnappers spread via WhatsApp. In 2017 alone, more than 30 deaths were linked to rumours spread via the app.

Given the circumstances, India, a country with 500 million people online, became the worldleader in internet shutdowns, as the government saw it as the only measure to prevent more violent attacks spurred. According to Wired, last year there were 70 shutdowns in the country — a big jump from 31 in 2016 and just 3 in 2012.

“Internet shutdown is the favourite go-to mechanism to handle fake news,” says Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an MP in India.

"Shutting down internet connection, can’t be a solution,’” said Stefania Barbaglio. "Bans, prohibitions, and censorship of social media are never effective in stopping certain behaviours and fighting misinformation. It is up to individuals to take appropriate action and make use of novel solutions to make effective change. We should acknowledge the inherent dangers that lie within the open environment of the internet, but also the new technologies which aim to empower people, will be pivotal in this regard. The Internet is evolving into a new platform for citizens, Internet X, to allow everyone to fully express themselves, share of information, data, and resources."

As much as it feels like the virtual sphere is contaminated, crises like this can in fact be used as a catalyst to build a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environments. They also reminds us of the importance of carrying the values that sustain our society into every public space — whichever shape or form it may take.

Fake News in Social Media: A threat to democratic values

Social media has become the battlefield for the opposing candidates in Brazil’s 2018 elections. With more than 120 million users in the country, WhatsApp has found itself flooded with false information and conspiracy theories.

Users and voters have been caught up in a web of lies and misinformation about the Workers’ Party candidate via group messages sent to millions of accounts, contributing to a fall in the candidate’s popularity.

An investigation by the main Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, has revealed that the far-right campaign candidate Jair Bolsonaro targeted millions of Brazilians ahead of the most critical elections in years using the messaging app WhatsApp. The scheme was financed by corporations and businessmen, an illegal move according to Brazilian law. The influence of this manoeuvre is believed to be skewing the election results towards a victory for Bolsonaro at the end of the month.

A study analysing 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp in Brazil found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information: very worrying data evidencing the urgency with which the problem should be tackled.

The case in Brazil shows that the coupling of fake news and social media has become one of the strongest political weapons in the digital age, resulting in a feeling of distrust of traditional means of communication and endangering some of the most fundamental pillars of Western societies.

The problem is both dangerous and subtle. Fake news is not a straightforward issue: in fact, it can come in many forms, taking the shape of false claims, edited content, and material used out of context.

“The increase in actions over internet-based communications is a reflection of people’s concerns about their online reputations and the ease with which damaging information about individuals and businesses can be shared and spread,” said Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC to the Guardian.

In a society in which civil principles are a priority, fighting fake news is a must, but developing solutions for such a complex problem requires a lot of work, as well as a clear understanding of the dynamics of online interactions and their consequences.

The solution: Creating an environment where individuals can exercise their right of reply

In many countries around the world, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has partnered with fact-checking agencies to evaluate the veracity of information arising in the network. But the efforts made by the social giant are evidently not enough to stop the spread of fake news.

One essential point is to enable victims of fake claims to have a relevant space to tell their truth.

“We are not able to draw a line between what is fake news and what is not, but what we can do is show both sides to a story, giving more detailed information about that story,” says digital reputation and digital activist Matteo Flora, whose new venture Right of Reply offers disruptive solutions for online reputation problems.

Right of Reply is developing a series of blockchain-powered applications to be integrated by online media, which will allow any of its users mentioned in online content to reply directly in a timely manner. Such a platform empowers both readers and personalities, because once provided the multiple facets of a same story, users will be better equipped to judge the truth of a story for themselves.

Right of Reply is based on a unique, disruptive, patented, and yet simple idea: RoR places an overlaying reputation layer upon the internet, newspapers and social media, so that the comment is embedded in the article posts and can be seen by everyone.

“A person mentioned or cited has their reply embedded directly within the content which cites or mentions them. Readers can access the reply directly, allowing the reply to have the same positioning, timing and relevance as the original content.”

“Thanks to blockchain, we can now directly address the problem of fake news. There is no need for third parties to defend or act as guarantor or solution provider anymore, as any individual or enterprise now has the opportunity and the power of action directly at the source,” says Stefania Barbaglio from Right of Reply.

Fake News: Fighting false claims in the era of free information

Since being named word of the year in 2017, ‘fake news’ has never been out of the spotlight. More than simply being false claims, fake news can have serious devastating effects. In an era of infinite information, how can we tell what is true and what isn’t?

There is no doubt that the emergence of social media has paved the way to a new era of human interaction, making the constraints of time and space things of the past and allowing people to interact with one another more openly.

In today’s word, with the widespread use of social media and technology applications, the main challenge is data and digital identity security. A few fintech companies have been focusing on new solutions to empower individuals and enterprises to protect themselves. Right of Reply is one of them.

Soon to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, RoR is developing a blockchain-powered platform that allows individuals to first verify their data and create a reputation identity, then use this identity to reply as soon as possible and with equal effect to any damaging or incorrect content online.

Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply, believes new technologies such as blockchain can help counter the effects of fake claims and defamation online: “Thanks to blockchain, we can now directly address the problem of online reputation management and fake news. There is no need for third parties to defend or act as guarantor or solution provider anymore, as any individual and enterprise has the opportunity and the power of action. This is revolutionary.”

It is widely recognised that our new communication technology is not always used for good. While it has brought people closer, it has also allowed the rise of fake news, the products of malicious actors who identified in the virtual world the distance and stealth necessary to act in their own interests to purposely harm an individual, an organisation, or even a decision maker.

Fake news is not a straightforward issue; there is a multitude of reasons that could motivate someone to start a fake rumour. Fake news can take many forms, from some apparently innocent gossip, to being used as a political tool. In many cases, they are pushed by ‘bot’ users, which were created to target and negatively influence the online presence of other users.

Research from Indiana University Network Science Institute indicates that between 9 to 15% of active Twitter accounts are social bots. This means that it’s very likely that less than 90% of current social media users are humans.

“The increase in claims arising from content on social media and websites reflects the growing impact and importance of new media compared with traditional news providers,” said Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC. “The increase in actions over internet-based communications is a reflection of people’s concerns about their online reputations and the ease with which damaging information about individuals and businesses can be shared and spread,” he added to the Guardian.

In fact, with more than 3 billion users worldwide, social media platforms are increasingly more concerned about their role in the fake news industry — and how to fight it.

During the first half of this year, in attempts to take action to fight misinformation and fake news, Twitter did a massive ‘clean out’ of fake profiles and bots users across its network and reduced malicious activity, which resulted in tens of millions of accounts being deleted.

“Our digital ecosystem is being polluted by a growing number of fake user accounts, so Twitter’s commitment to cleaning up the digital space should be welcomed wholeheartedly by everyone, from users of the platforms, to creators and advertisers. We’ve focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. This is the approach we need now.” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in light of the clean-outs.

Twitter has not been the only platform to implement actions of this nature. WhatsApp, the instant message app now owned by Facebook, has limited the number of messages users can forward, to avoid spam and spreading of fake news.

The truth is that despite efforts by tech companies to check up on their users and manage their content, malicious actors evolve quickly and show a high level of proficiency in bettering their tactics. Policy changes and calls for regulatory actions are indeed vital in tackling such a complex, multi-layered issue.

If technology spurred the growth fake news, we should also be able to use technology to fight it.