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Oxford research documents the alarming rise of disinformation on social media

September 21, 2018 | By Rande Price, Research Director – DCN @Randeloo

The spread of disinformation across social media has emerged as a critical threat to the role public information plays in a properly functioning democracy. This trend undermines consumer trust in media and many governments feel threatened by fake news and foreign intervention, especially during election times. A new report from Oxford Internet Institute, Challenging Truth and Trust: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation, analyzes the trend of organized media manipulation, and the growing capacities, strategies and resources that support this phenomenon.

The report documented that social media manipulation takes place in 48 countries, up from 28 countries last year. One reason for social media’s ability to so effectively spread misinformation the platforms ability to micro-target large groups of individuals with personalized messages. Social media employs “computational propaganda” ( the use of automation), algorithms and big-data analytics, to shape public discourse and public opinion

Additional findings include:
  • To combat the spread of misinformation, counter-narratives and fact checking portals are being created to support citizen awareness and engagement with the facts. However, some government agencies feel threatened with their countries’ response of censorship tools.
  • The research identifies evidence of political parties and candidates using automated scripts (bots) on social media during an election process in at least 30 countries.
  • Approximately one-fifth of the 48 countries use chat applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram and WeChat to spread disinformation campaigns.

While social media has opened doors that allow friends and families to connect and share information, the power of these platforms also led to the spread of misinformation and divisive media campaigns. This research offers an understanding of how social media platforms impact public discourse. It provides a background for policymakers to inquire about social platforms use of big data analytics and “black-box” algorithms. Importantly, the research should encourage all to question the ways in which social platforms are collecting, processing, and using personal data.

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