At Least 70 Countries Have Had Disinformation Campaigns, Study Finds
The New York Times, September 26, 2019
By Davey Alba and Adam Satariano
…Despite increased efforts by internet platforms like Facebook to combat internet disinformation, the use of the techniques by governments around the world is growing, according to a report released Thursday by researchers at Oxford University. Governments are spreading disinformation to discredit political opponents, bury opposing views and interfere in foreign affairs.
…Facebook remains the No. 1 social network for disinformation, the report said. Organized propaganda campaigns were found on the platform in 56 countries.
“Social media technology tends to empower propaganda and disinformation in really new ways,” said Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, a department at Oxford University, and co-author of the study. The institute previously worked with the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate Russian interference around the 2016 campaign.
Ms. Bradshaw said that in the case studies the Oxford team identified, advertising was not central to the spread of disinformation. Instead, she said, the campaigns sought to create memes, videos or other pieces of content designed to take advantage of social networks’ algorithms and their amplifying effects — exploiting the potential for virality on the platforms for free.
Ms. Bradshaw said both government regulation and the steps taken by Facebook to combat this kind of disinformation didn’t go far enough. A lot of the regulation “tends to focus on the content” or “problems at the edges of disinformation problems,” she said, pointing to efforts like Facebook’s transparency in its ads archive.
“But from our research, we know that this problem of microtargeting ads is actually only a very small part of the problems,” Ms. Bradshaw said. Facebook has not addressed deeper structural problems that make it easy to spread false and misleading information, she said.
“To address that you need to look at the algorithm and the underlying business model,” Ms. Bradshaw said