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Oxford study found manipulation in social media in all 81 countries examined

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A report published by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) found evidence of organized tampering campaigns on social media in all 81 countries surveyed in 2020, a 15% increase compared to last year’s report.

The study points to the increasing influence of “cyber troops”. This refers to social media accounts that distribute fake images, use data-driven strategies to target specific populations, troll political opponents, and mass-report opponents’ content to be reported as spam. These accounts can either be automated or human.

Facebook and Twitter announced that they removed more than 317,000 accounts and pages from their platforms in a period of 22 months (January 2019 to November 2020) – rental services, ”said Dr. Samantha Bradshaw, researcher at OII. While social media companies deleted accounts, over the same period $ 10 million was spent worldwide on political advertising by cyber troops and, since 2009, $ 60 million on private “strategic communications companies”.

The OII report found evidence that government agencies in 62 countries are using computer propaganda for their own purposes. Examples include China-backed cyber troops who continue to launch smear campaigns against Hong Kong protesters and the Libyan National Army, which has used social media to mold narratives about the ongoing civil war.

The United Kingdom and the United States were counted among the 48% of countries with misinformation campaigns that drive division and polarization. In fact, both the US and the UK tested positive for interference from all five potential actors – government agencies, politicians and parties, private contractors, civil society organizations, and citizens and influencers.

In the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th, fears of unrest were hard come true through years of manipulation on social media. “The day after the election, a group called Stop the Steal pops up on Facebook,” said Sheera Frankel, cybersecurity reporter for the New York Times. “You gain 100 new members every 10 seconds.” After Facebook and Twitter removed their pages, the group gathered again on Gab and Parler, platforms where individuals can say what they want without fear of moderation or censorship.

“Now more than ever, the public needs to be able to rely on trustworthy information about government policies and activities,” said Professor Philip Howard, director of the OII and co-author of the OII report. “Social media companies need to improve their game by stepping up their efforts to report misinformation and close bogus accounts without government intervention so that the public can access quality information.”

Photo credit: Try Today. License: CC BY-SA 4.0

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