Social media platforms should ‘open up’ algorithms to combat fake content, says Vĕra Jourová

Social media platforms should ‘open up’ algorithms to combat fake content, says Vĕra Jourová
Digital sovereignty

European Commission Vice President Vĕra Jourová says tech companies need to work harder to eliminate fake accounts and the spread of disinformation online, following a report Friday from a NATO research group showing that fake content is still thriving on most platforms, according to Politico

The report from the Latvia-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence showed tech platforms are failing to stop fake accounts, the purchasing of fake followers, and the spread of fake content. The findings challenge claims from platforms saying they’ve successfully cracked down, following manipulation of the US election in 2016.

NATO researchers say they were able to purchase about 54,000 fake followers, comments, likes, or views, without any substantial interference from the platforms. 

“We assess that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are still failing to adequately counter inauthentic behaviour on their platforms,” wrote authors Sebastian Bay and Rolf Fredheim.

“Self-regulation is not working. The manipulation industry is growing year by year. We see no sign that it is becoming substantially more expensive or more difficult to conduct widespread social media manipulation.”

Some platforms showed a stronger response than others. Twitter removed more than half of the fake likes and retweets from researchers. Both Facebook and Instagram performed poorly, with Facebook removing just 1 percent of fake likes. 

In addition to concerns over disinformation and the integrity of the democratic process, the findings raise concerns for social media companies, which depend on revenue from advertisers paying to reach real users. 

The platforms defended their track record in response to the report. Facebook Global Affairs and Communication chief Nick Clegg told reporters:

“We have dramatically accelerated the amount of takedowns that we do of networks of external interference on our platforms. This year alone, we have taken down about 50 networks of what we called coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Following the report’s publication, Jourová told Politico:

“Society also needs to know what happens behind the algorithms, and platforms need to open up to researchers and governments.”

Jourová oversees Europe’s Code of Practice on Disinformation, an agreement reached last year in which tech companies committed to delete fake accounts, prevent their monetization, and transparently report any manipulation found on their platforms. Jourová now says she will evaluate compliance with the code and discuss measures to address the problem, in the European Democracy Action Plan promised by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Photo by European Parliament from EU [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

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