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Meta Shares a New Overview of its Evolving Efforts to Tackle Mass Manipulation Efforts

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Meta Shares a New Overview of its Evolving Efforts to Tackle Mass Manipulation Efforts

Meta has published a new overview of its evolving efforts to combat coordinated influence operations across its apps, which became a key focus for the platform following the 2016 US Presidential Election, in which Russian-based operatives were found to be using Facebook to influence US voters.

Since then, Meta says that it has detected and removed more than 200 covert influence operations, while also sharing information on each network’s behavior with others in the industry, so that they can all learn from the same data, and develop better approaches to tackling such.

As per Meta:

“Whether they come from nation states, commercial firms or unattributed groups, sharing this information has enabled our teams, investigative journalists, government officials and industry peers to better understand and expose internet-wide security risks, including ahead of critical elections.

Meta says that it’s detected influence operations targeting over 100 different nations, with the United States being the most targeted country, followed by Ukraine and the UK.

That likely points to the influence that the US has over global policy, while it could also relate to the popularity of social networks in these regions, making it a bigger vector for influence.

In terms of where these groups originate from, Russia, Iran and Mexico were the three most prolific geographic sources of CIB activity.

Meta Coordinated Influence Efforts report

Russia, as noted, is the most widely publicized home for such operations – though Meta also notes that while many Russian operations have targeted the US, more operations from Russia actually targeted Ukraine and Africa, as part of the nation’s global efforts to sway public and political sentiment.

Meta also notes that, over time, more and more of these types of operations have actually targeted their own country, as opposed to a foreign entity.

For example, we’ve reported on a number of government agencies targeting their own population in MalaysiaNicaraguaThailand and Uganda. In fact, two-thirds of the operations we’ve disrupted since 2017 focused wholly or partially on domestic audiences.

Meta Coordinated Influence Efforts report

In terms of how these operations are evolving, Meta notes that, increasingly, CIB groups are turning to AI-generated images, for example, to disguise their activity.

“Since 2019, we’ve seen a rapid rise in the number of networks that used profile photos generated using artificial intelligence techniques like generative adversarial networks (GAN). This technology is readily available on the internet, allowing anyone – including threat actors – to create a unique photo. More than two-thirds of all the CIB networks we disrupted this year featured accounts that likely had GAN-generated profile pictures, suggesting that threat actors may see it as a way to make their fake accounts look more authentic and original in an effort to evade detection by open source investigators, who might rely on reverse-image searches to identify stock photo profile photos.”

Which is interesting, particularly when you consider the steady rise of AI-generation technology, spanning from still images to video to text and more. While these systems will have valuable uses, there are also potential dangers and harms, and it’s interesting to consider how such technologies can be used to shroud inauthentic activity.

The report provides some valuable perspective on the scale of the issue, and how Meta’s working to tackle the ever-evolving tactics of scammers and manipulation operations online.

And they’re not going to stop – which is why Meta has also put out the call for increased regulation, as well as continued action by industry groups.

Meta’s also updating its own policies and processes in line with these needs, including updated security features and support options.

Which will also include more live chat capacity:

“While our scaled account recovery tools aim at supporting the majority of account access issues, we know that there are groups of people that could benefit from additional, human-driven support. This year, we’ve carefully grown a small test of a live chat support feature on Facebook, and we’re beginning to see positive results. For example, during the month of October we offered our live chat support option to more than a million people in nine countries, and we’re planning to expand this test to more than 30 countries around the world.

That could be a big update, as anyone who’s ever dealt with Meta knows, getting a human on the line to assist can be an almost impossible task.

It’s difficult to scale such, especially when serving close to 3 billion users, but Meta’s now working to provide more support functionality, as another means to better protect people, and help them avoid harm online.

It’s a never-ending battle, and with the capacity to reach so many people, you can expect to see bad actors continue to target Meta’s apps as a means to spread their messaging.

As such, it’s worth noting how Meta is refining its approach, while also noting the scope of work conducted thus far on these elements.

You can read Meta’s full Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Enforcements report for 2022 here.

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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

Activists of Extinction Rebellion hold a ‘die-in’ for climate action in Boston in July 2022 – Copyright AFP/File Joseph Prezioso

Roland LLOYD PARRY

False information about climate change flourished online over the past year, researchers say, with denialist social media posts and conspiracy theories surging after US environmental reforms and Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

“What really surprised us this year was to see a resurgence in language that is reminiscent of the 1980s: phrases like ‘climate hoax’ and ‘climate scam’ that deny the phenomenon of climate change,” said Jennie King, head of civic action at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based digital research group.

Popular topics included the false claims that CO2 does not cause climate change or that global warming is not caused by human activity, said Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of campaigners, in a report.

“Let me expose what the climate scam is actually all about,” read one of the most-shared tweets, cited in another survey by US non-profit Advance Democracy, Inc (ADI).

“It is a wealth transfer from you — to the global elite.”

– Twitter disinfo surge –

An analysis of Twitter messages — carried out for AFP by two computational social scientists at City, University of London — counted 1.1 million tweets or retweets using strong climate-sceptic terms in 2022.

Watchdogs are urging social media platforms to tackle climate disinformation – Copyright AFP Robyn Beck

That was nearly twice the figure for 2021, said researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli. They found climate denial posts peaked in December, the month after Tesla billionaire Musk took over the platform.

Use of the denialist hashtag #ClimateScam surged on Twitter from July, according to analyses by CAAD and the US-based campaign group Center For Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

For weeks it was the top suggested search term on the site for users typing “climate”.

CAAD said the reason for that was “unclear”, though one major user of the term appeared to be an automated account, possibly indicating that a malignant bot was churning it out.

ADI noted that July saw US President Joe Biden secure support for a major climate spending bill — subject of numerous “climate scam” tweets — plus a heatwave in the United States and Europe.

Climate denial posts also peaked during the COP27 climate summit in November.

– Blue-tick deniers –

A quarter of all the strongly climate-sceptic tweets came from just 10 accounts, including Canadian right-wing populist party leader Maxime Bernier and Paul Joseph Watson, editor of conspiracy-theory website InfoWars, the City research showed.

CCDH pointed the finger at Musk, who reinstated numerous banned Twitter accounts and allowed users to pay for a blue tick — a mark previously reserved for accredited “verified” users in the public eye.

“Elon Musk’s decision to open up his platform for hate and disinformation has led to an explosion in climate disinformation on the platform,” said Callum Hood, CCDH’s head of research.

Musk himself tweeted in August 2022: “I do think global warming is a major risk.”

Musk has also created a $100 million dollar prize for technology innovations shown to be effective in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But prolific climate change contrarians -– such as blogger Tony Heller and former coal executive Steve Milloy — have hailed him in their tweets.

– Conspiracy theories –

An analysis by Advance Democracy seen by AFP found the number of Twitter posts “using climate change denialism terms” more than tripled from 2021 to 2022, reaching over 900,000.

On TikTok, views of videos using hashtags associated with climate change denialism increased by 4.9 million, it said.

On YouTube, climate change denial videos got hundreds of thousands of views, with searches for them bringing up adverts for climate-denial products.

YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez told AFP that in response to the claim, certain climate-denial ads had been taken down.

TikTok and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

On Facebook, meanwhile, ADI found the number of such posts decreased compared to 2021, in line with overall climate change claims.

– Culture wars –

The CAAD report said climate content regularly features alongside other misleading claims on “electoral fraud, vaccinations, the COVID-19 pandemic, migration, and child trafficking rings run by so-called ‘elites’.”

Jennie King of ISD said: “We are definitely seeing a rise of out-and-out conspiracism. Climate is the latest vector in the culture wars.”

Given the reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that human carbon emissions are heating the planet, raising the risk of floods, droughts and heatwaves, CCDH’s Hood emphasised the urgency of restricting the reach of misinformation.

“We would encourage platforms to think about the real harm that is caused by climate change,” Hood said, “so people who repeatedly spread demonstrably false information about climate are not granted the sort of reach that we see them getting.”

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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

The company posted a net loss of $288.5 million, or 18 cents a share, including $34 million in charges from its workforce restructuring. That compared to a profit of $23 million, or one cent, a year earlier.

Snap ended the fourth quarter with 375 million daily users, a 17% increase. In the first three months of the year, the company estimates 382 million to 384 million people will use its platform daily.

Snap has become a bellwether for other digital advertising companies. Last year, it was the first to raise concerns about the slowdown in marketer spending online and to fire a significant number of employees—20% of its workforce—to cut costs in the face of falling revenue.

The company has spent the last two quarters refocusing the organization, cutting projects that don’t contribute to user and revenue growth.

In the first quarter, Snap expects the environment to “remain challenging as we expect the headwinds we have faced over the past year to persist.”

Investors will get additional information about the state of the digital ad market when Meta and Alphabet report earnings later this week.

—Bloomberg News

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

After reinstating thousands of previously suspended accounts, as part of new chief Elon Musk’s ‘amnesty’ initiative, Twitter has now outlined how it will be enforcing its rules from now on, which includes less restrictive measures for some violations.

As explained by Twitter:

“We have been proactively reinstating previously suspended accounts […] We did not reinstate accounts that engaged in illegal activity, threats of harm or violence, large-scale spam and platform manipulation, or when there was no recent appeal to have the account reinstated. Going forward, we will take less severe actions, such as limiting the reach of policy-violating Tweets or asking you to remove Tweets before you can continue using your account.”

This is in line with Musk’s previously stated ‘freedom of speech, not freedom of reach’ approach, which will see Twitter leaning more towards leaving content active in the app, but reducing its impact algorithmically, if it breaks any rules.

Which means a lot of tweets that would have previously been deemed violative will now remain in the app, and while Musk notes that no ads will be displayed against such content, that could be difficult to enforce, given the way the tweet timeline functions.

But it does align with Musk’s free speech approach, and reduces the onus on Twitter, to some degree, in moderating speech. It will still need to assess each instance, case-by-case, but users themselves will be less aware of penalties – though Musk has also flagged adding more notifications and explainers to outline any reach penalties as well.

“Account suspension will be reserved for severe or ongoing, repeat violations of our policies. Severe violations include but are not limited to: engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, privacy violations, platform manipulation or spam, and engaging in targeted harassment of our users.

Which still means that a lot of content that these users had been suspended for previously would still result in suspension now, and it leaves a lot up to Twitter management in allocating severity of impact in certain actions.

How do you definitively measure threats of violence or harm, for example? Former President Donald Trump was sanctioned under this policy, but many, including Musk, were critical of Twitter’s decision to do so, given that Trump is an elected representative.

In other nations, too, Twitter has been pressured to remove tweets under these policies, and it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter 2.0 handles such, given its stated more lax approach to moderation, despite its rules remaining largely the same.

Already, questions have been raised on this front – Twitter recently removed links to a BBC documentary that’s critical of the Indian Government, at the request of India’s PM. Twitter hasn’t offered any official explanation for the action, but with Musk also working with the Indian Government to secure partnerships for his other business, Tesla, questions have been raised as to how he will manage both impacts concurrently.

In essence, Twitter’s approach has changed when it chooses to do so, but the rules, as such, will effectively be governed by Musk himself. And as we’ve already seen, he will make drastic rules changes based on personal agendas and experience.

Twitter says that, starting February 1st, any previously suspended users will be able to appeal their suspension, and be evaluated under its new criteria for reinstatement.

It’s also targeting February for a launch of its new account penalties notifications.



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