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/

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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

RoR Politics: A digital solution to promote healthy political debate online

A first-of-its-kind project tailored for political debate, creating an integrated environment where “discussions on matters of public interest can be initiated and continued with contribution from different political parties and a fact-checking mechanism to support both sides equally,” said Matteo Flora, from Right of Reply.

Social media has become the primary means for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences. As a consequence, we have witnessed the growth of fake news and increased media distrust, so political parties need tools to communicate clear and transparent messages to the public, reducing bias and partisanism, as well as nurturing a more informed and conscious electorate.

With widespread misinformation and biased content emerging from the political realm on social media, voters are increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by information fabricated to fit into propaganda.

In fact, 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.

Addressing this problem, innovative tech company Right of Reply has designed a digital platform, RoR Politics, to counter misinformation and political propaganda online. RoR Politics is convenient and easy to navigate, making truthful information easy to reach, preventing bias and social bubbles.

“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,” Matteo adds.

Information displayed on RoR Politics is verified by an independent body, partner to RoR with no political affiliation to ensure balance. More than fact-checking, RoR Politcs is about creating an open environment for constructive political debate.

How does it work?

RoR Politics allows replies to be embedded in the same place as the original content, promoting open, democratic debate through five RoR patented tools:

1. About Me, About You: Automated updates on any web content — article, image, video, blog, forum — which mentions or quotes a particular politician, candidate or party in any manner; with new content specifically highlighted.

2. Speak Truth: Allows response to content by writing a reply and offering evidence of facts, helping the public to draw accurate conclusions by offering evidence and contextualisation.

3. Offer Debate: Offers the candidate cited and/or their opponent the opportunity to respond to specific content by writing a reply.

4. Response Available: Signals to voters and the general public on other search engines that the candidate’s response to content is available.

5. Public Talk: Creates one single certified online repository about a cited candidate and/or their opponent, including all content. Allows comparison between rival platforms and voting history.

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 its page https://rightofreply.news

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.