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Social media manipulation by political actors is a problem on an industrial scale, the report finds

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This activity has become more professional, with private companies offering disinformation services. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The manipulation of public opinion through social media is a growing threat to democracies around the world, according to the Oxford Internet Institute’s 2020 Media Tampering Survey, which found evidence in each of the 80+ countries studied.

Organized tampering campaigns were found on social media in each of the 81 countries surveyed, an increase of 15% in one year from 70 countries in 2019. Governments, PR firms and political parties produce misinformation on an industrial scale, according to the report. It shows that disinformation has become a common strategy as more than 93% of countries (76 out of 81) use disinformation as part of political communication.

Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author of the report, says, “Our report shows that misinformation has been professionalized and is now being produced on an industrial scale, relying on trustworthy information about government policies and activities. 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 have access to quality information. “

The OII team warns that levels of manipulation on social media have skyrocketed as governments and political parties spend millions on private sector “cyber troops” drowning out other voices on social media. Citizen influencers are used to spread compromised news. This includes volunteers, youth groups and civil society organizations who support their ideologies.

OII alumna Dr. Samantha Bradshaw, lead author of the report, says, “Our 2020 report highlights how government agencies, political parties and private companies continue to use social media to spread political propaganda, pollute the digital information ecosystem, and freedom of expression and press. Much of these activities have become more professional, with private companies offering disinformation services. “

Key takeaways that the OII researchers identified include:

  • Private “strategic communications” companies are playing an increasing role in the spread of computer propaganda. Researchers identify state actors that work with such firms in 48 countries.
  • Almost $ 60 million has been spent on companies using bots and other reinforcement strategies to create the impression that political messages are on trend.
  • Social media has become a major battleground, with companies like Facebook and Twitter taking steps to combat “cyber troops”. About $ 10 million has been spent on political advertising on social media. The platforms removed more than 317,000 accounts and pages from “cyber troops”. “Actors between January 2019 and November 2020.

Cyber ​​troops are often directly linked to government agencies. The report said: “In 62 countries we found evidence that a government agency is using computer propaganda to shape public attitudes.”

Established political parties have also been found to use social media to “spread disinformation, repress political participation and undermine opposition parties,” say the Oxford researchers.

The report said: “In 61 countries we found evidence of political parties or politicians running for office using the tools and techniques of computer propaganda as part of their political campaigns. In fact, social media has become a vital part of digital campaigning . ” . “

Dr. Bradshaw adds, “Cyber ​​troops can look different in democracies than they do in authoritarian regimes.

The report examines the tools and techniques of computer propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, people, and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. It finds:

  • 79 countries used human accounts,
  • 57 counties used bot accounts and
  • 14 countries used hacked or stolen accounts.

Researchers examined how cyber troops use various communication strategies to manipulate public opinion, such as creating disinformation or manipulated media, data-driven targeting, and abusive strategies such as running smear campaigns or online harassment. The report finds:

  • 76 countries used disinformation and media manipulation as part of their campaigns,
  • 30 countries use data-based strategies to target specific users with political advertising,
  • 59 countries used government-sponsored trolls to target political opponents or activists in 2019, up from 47 countries in 2019.

The 2020 report relies on a four-step methodology that Oxford researchers use to identify evidence of globally organized tampering campaigns. This includes a systematic content analysis of news articles on cyber troop activities, a secondary literature search of public archives and scientific reports, the preparation of country-specific case studies and expert consultations.

The research was carried out by Oxford researchers between 2019 and 2020.

Social media manipulation is increasing worldwide, warns a new report

More information:
Research studies of the Computational Propaganda Project are available at comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/publications/ Provided by the University of Oxford. released

Quote: Social media manipulation by political actors a problem on an industrial scale, report takes place (2021, January 13), accessed on October 2, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-social-media-political- actors-industrial.html

This document is subject to copyright. Except for fair trade for private study or research purposes, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.

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