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Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Represents a New, Key Stage in the Battle Against Online Misinformation



Russia's Invasion of Ukraine Represents a New, Key Stage in the Battle Against Online Misinformation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has marked a new inflection point for social media, and the role that it plays in the modern information ecosystem. Now, after years of dismissals about the influence of social platforms, and how social media trends can drive real world action, we’re seeing faster, more responsive approaches to potentially harmful messaging, which has played a key role in limiting the spread of misinformation, and quashing counter-narratives that have the potential to both erode support and undermine action.

Yet, at the same time, those very same shifts highlight the importance of social platforms as propaganda tools, and how they can be – and have been – used as a means to increasingly control narratives around political and cultural events.

Which begs the question – is it better to have social platforms cut off entirely for certain regions, or does that merely grant more space for government-controlled media to fill those gaps, and dictate messaging as it sees fit?

Of course, none of the platforms themselves have chosen to be cut off – both Facebook and Twitter are reportedly either limited or cut off entirely within Russia at present, due to their refusal to comply with the Kremlin’s demands to stop censoring state-affiliated media. But even so, the lack of outside information sources likely has a massive impact on how Russian citizens perceive the action in Ukraine, with various reports showing that many Russians are indeed in support of Putin’s decisions, despite almost unanimous worldwide condemnation.

But without external input, it’s quite possible that Russians are simply unaware of the global response – or at the least, they likely have a lessened perception of such. Which is a risk of Russia being cut off – now, the only information that Russians have is largely via Kremlin-controlled channels, which can’t be good for broader understanding.

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At the same time, there’s not much the platforms themselves can do about this. The only option they have is to comply, and enable their platforms to be used to spread misinformation. Which also leads to the counter concern – without being able to hear the other side, how do we know that we’re getting the full story? The quashing of pro-Russian narratives means that the platforms do indeed have control over information flow, and while the suppression of such extends well beyond social media alone in this instance, it does reinforce the fact that the news and information we see can be controlled, or at least influenced, by private organizations.


In most cases, this is in line with broader government sanctions, but still, that’s at least something of a concern.

So where are we at right now?

Currently, as per latest reports:

  • Both Facebook and Twitter have been restricted or cut off in Russia, limiting the capacity for Russian users to share their perspectives beyond the nation’s borders
  • Russian state media has been banned from YouTube and TikTok for users in Europe, while both are now looking to ban uploads in Russia due to the Kremlin’s new ‘fake news’ law. Reddit has also banned links to Russian state media sites
  • Ads from Russian-based organizations have been banned on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and Snapchat

So pro-Russian messaging is severely limited on western social media apps, and each platform continues to work hard to stop the spread of misinformation by tackling it before it can take hold.

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The positive of this, as noted, is that we’re finally seeing this element taken more seriously, and we’re finally seeing platforms take more definitive, proactive stances on potentially harmful misinformation before it’s too late. Platforms dismissed trends like the rise of QAnon for far too long, despite repeated warnings, preferring to let users exercise their rights to free speech, and explaining it away as just that, just talk among niche groups. Now we know where that can lead, and it’s a major positive to see immediate reaction on misinformation in this case, which has played a big role in limiting its impact.

That, really, is what’s needed, and it feels like the key learning of the past decade of evolving social media usage.

But then again, that’s also reliant on there being a definitive truth, and for the platforms themselves to decide on such quickly. In this case, that’s clear, based on global response, but it won’t always be so straightforward.

So while social platforms are being praised for their rapid response in this instance, and it does feel like a significant point in the battle against online misinformation campaigns, it may not be indicative, as such, and it may not limit the next rising, dangerous trend.

Unless a definitive battle plan is established. What we need now is for the platforms to work together, as an industry, in partnership with third-party fact-checkers and other legal and/or academic groups, to firm up a process of making rapid decisions on potentially dangerous trends, as soon as they’re detected, in order to ensure ongoing proactive response to limit such.


It feels like we’re at the next stage in the battle, given the current action we’re seeing, but that may not be the case, and it’s important that we recognize the value of the response that we’re seeing right now, in order to define future action on the same.

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But that does, inevitably, implement a level of control over ‘free speech’ online – and if we’re essentially only seeing messages that have been approved by a network of fact checkers, corporations and even government-aligned groups (in the case of regulation) is that much better than Russia or China pushing their messages via state-affiliated partners?

It seems like it is, and you would assume that the power of democracy holds more strength in this regard, with respect to allowing a level of healthy scrutiny. But it’s a question that will inevitably come up as we look to integrate lessons learned to improve online information flow.

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Meta Announces WhatsApp Cloud API to Provide Hosting Support for SMBs



Meta Announces WhatsApp Cloud API to Provide Hosting Support for SMBs

After previewing the option back in 2020, today, at its first-ever ‘Conversations’ messaging conference, Meta has announced that it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API, which will provide free, secure cloud hosting services for businesses.

As it sounds, the WhatsApp Cloud API will essentially host your conversation data on Meta’s servers, which will improve connection and speed, but will come with a degree of privacy trade-off.

The main benefits will be improved speed in messaging response, while it’ll also help to eliminate server expenses, which could be a big benefit to smaller businesses, in particular. It’ll also facilitate faster access to new WhatsApp business features as they become available.

The downside is that it will mean more reliance on Meta, while you’ll also need to dilute WhatsApp’s messaging security measures:

As Meta described in its original announcement:

If a business chooses to use a third-party vendor to operate the WhatsApp Business API on their behalf, we do not consider that to be end-to-end encrypted since the business you are messaging has chosen to give a third-party vendor access to those messages. This will also be the case if that third-party vendor is Facebook.”

As such, WhatsApp will include new notifications on consumer-to-business exchanges conducted through Meta hosting.

WhatsApp message prompts

How you feel about such trade-offs will come down to your personal perspective, but the offering could be highly valuable for smaller businesses looking to build out their tech stack, without having to sign on to a third-party hosting vendor, or buy their own hardware.

But again, that does also mean increasing your reliance on Meta, which has notoriously changed the rules on businesses in the past, leaving many in the lurch.

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The real benefit, however, will likely be in developing regions, where WhatsApp is the dominant messaging platform, and many small businesses are looking for ways to maximize their reach and transactions in-app. If Meta can assist them in building their business, that could be a big step in making WhatsApp a more critical utility, for many more users, while also, eventually, providing a direct revenue pathway for the messaging platform.

Though it does feel like a bit of a honey trap. Meta has already flagged that it will eventually introduce charges for these additional elements, without specifically outlining what those costs will be. Once businesses are reliant on such, it’ll be too late to back out, and Meta could ensnare them via incremental increases, that may eventually become a big earner for the company.

On another front, Meta also announced Recurring Notifications on Messenger, which will enable businesses to re-engage people within a messaging thread. The feature is only available to premium users at present, which doesn’t cost more to be part of right now, but will in future as Meta looks to incorporate new charges for its messaging and hosting tools.

You can check out replays of the Conversations conference presentations here.

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