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Taking a swipe at social media: More safeguard controls are needed

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Instagram hits pause on kids' version after criticism

Social media – © AFP/File SAUL LOEB

Today, June 30th, is ‘World Social Media Day’. Does the world need a social media day? World Social Media Day was launched by Mashable on June 30, 2010. It developed as a way to recognize social media’s impact on global communication and to ‘celebrate it’.

Given the prevalence of social media, whether further publicity is needed is debatable. Also, not everyone is celebrating the contribution of social media for there are some who reman deeply concerned about online safety.

According to Miles Hutchinson, Chief Information Security Officer of Jumio, the event serves as a reminder to consumers and organizations of the importance of securing social media platforms to protect children from potentially harmful products and people online.

Hutchinson explains to Digital Journal about what the aims and objectives of the event are: “World Social Media Day reminds consumers and organizations of the importance of safeguards to protect children from potentially dangerous people, content and products on social media platforms.”

In Hutchinson’s view, a regulatory framework is needed: “Social media organizations, in particular, have an ethical obligation to protect children, and they can do so by leveraging age and identity verification methods to keep children from accessing mature content, purchasing age-restricted products, encountering predatory individuals or being exposed to privacy policies designed for adults.”

But do social media providers deliver?  Are they meeting this ethical obligation? The view of consumers suggests they are not.

Hutchinson finds: “Recent survey data shows that 83 percent of consumers want social media platforms to verify their users and hold them accountable for their online activity.” This high number requesting support from social media firms suggests that this support is not forthcoming.

Hutchinson finds that there are too many threats on social media: “Federal investigators estimate that there are over 500,000 online predators active every day, that they have multiple online profiles, and that more than 50 percent of their victims are ages 12 to 15.”

This means social media firms are failing. Hutchinson continues: “It is evident that crucial safeguards are missing from these social media platforms, which are failing to protect children in the digital age.” What Hutchinson recommends is a series of measures, such as: “By utilizing identity verification, biometrics and multi-factor authentication to verify the age and identity of their users, social media platforms can offer children a safer internet experience while allowing for the adaptability and flexibility to meet new threats, regulations and challenges as they arise.”

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5 Killer Strategies for Social Media Growth [Infographic]

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5 Killer Strategies for Social Media Growth [Infographic]

Looking for ways to improve your social media marketing performance in 2024?

This might help. The team from Giraffe Social Media recently provided some new tips on the best ways to get more out of your social media efforts through engagement, consistent posting, analytics, and ads.

You can check out a summary of the Giraffe team’s tips in the infographic below, or read more in their blog post.

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Paris mayor to stop using ‘global sewer’ X

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Hidalgo called Twitter a 'vast global sewer'

Hidalgo called Twitter a ‘vast global sewer’ – Copyright POOL/AFP Leon Neal

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Monday she was quitting Elon Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, which she described as a “global sewer” and a tool to disrupt democracy.

“I’ve made the decision to leave X,” Hidalgo said in an op-ed in French newspaper Le Monde. “X has in recent years become a weapon of mass destruction of our democracies”, she wrote.

The 64-year-old Socialist, who unsuccessfully stood for the presidency in 2022, joined Twitter as it was then known in 2009 and has been a frequent user of the platform.

She accused X of promoting “misinformation”, “anti-Semitism and racism.”

“The list of abuses is endless”, she added. “This media has become a vast global sewer.”

Since Musk took over Twitter in 2022, a number of high-profile figures said they were leaving the popular social platform, but there has been no mass exodus.

Several politicians including EU industry chief Thierry Breton have announced that they are opening accounts on competing networks in addition to maintaining their presence on X.

The City of Paris account will remain on X, the mayor’s office told AFP.

By contrast, some organisations have taken the plunge, including the US public radio network NPR, or the German anti-discrimination agency.

Hidalgo has regularly faced personal attacks on social media including Twitter, as well as sometimes criticism over the lack of cleanliness and security in Paris.

In the latest furore, she has faced stinging attacks over an October trip to the French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia that was not publicised at the time and that she extended with a two-week personal vacation.

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Meta Highlights Key Platform Manipulation Trends in Latest ‘Adversarial Threat Report’

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Meta Highlights Key Platform Manipulation Trends in Latest ‘Adversarial Threat Report’

While talk of a possible U.S.  ban of TikTok has been tempered of late, concerns still linger around the app, and the way that it could theoretically be used by the Chinese Government to implement varying forms of data tracking and messaging manipulation in Western regions.

The latter was highlighted again this week, when Meta released its latest “Adversarial Threat Report,” which includes an overview of Meta’s latest detections, as well as a broader summary of its efforts throughout the year.

And while the data shows that Russia and Iran remain the most common source regions for coordinated manipulation programs, China is third on that list, with Meta shutting down almost 5,000 Facebook profiles linked to a Chinese-based manipulation program in Q3 alone.

As explained by Meta:

“We removed 4,789 Facebook accounts for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in China and targeted the United States. The individuals behind this activity used basic fake accounts with profile pictures and names copied from elsewhere on the internet to post and befriend people from around the world. They posed as Americans to post the same content across different platforms. Some of these accounts used the same name and profile picture on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). We removed this network before it was able to gain engagement from authentic communities on our apps.”

Meta says that this group aimed to sway discussion around both U.S. and China policy by both sharing news stories, and engaging with posts related to specific issues.

“They also posted links to news articles from mainstream US media and reshared Facebook posts by real people, likely in an attempt to appear more authentic. Some of the reshared content was political, while other covered topics like gaming, history, fashion models, and pets. Unusually, in mid-2023 a small portion of this network’s accounts changed names and profile pictures from posing as Americans to posing as being based in India when they suddenly began liking and commenting on posts by another China-origin network focused on India and Tibet.”

Meta further notes that it took down more Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) groups from China than any other region in 2023, reflecting the rising trend of Chinese operators looking to infiltrate Western networks.  

“The latest operations typically posted content related to China’s interests in different regions worldwide. For example, many of them praised China, some of them defended its record on human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, others attacked critics of the Chinese government around the world, and posted about China’s strategic rivalry with the U.S. in Africa and Central Asia.”

Google, too, has repeatedly removed large clusters of YouTube accounts of Chinese origin that had been seeking to build audiences in the app, in order to then seed pro-China sentiment.

The largest coordinated group identified by Google is an operation known as “Dragonbridge” which has long been the biggest originator of manipulative efforts across its apps.

As you can see in this chart, Google removed more than 50,000 instances of Dragonbridge activity across YouTube, Blogger and AdSense in 2022 alone, underlining the persistent efforts of Chinese groups to sway Western audiences.

So these groups, whether they’re associated with the CCP or not, are already looking to infiltrate Western-based networks. Which underlines the potential threat of TikTok in the same respect, given that it’s controlled by a Chinese owner, and therefore likely more directly accessible to these operators.

That’s partly why TikTok is already banned on government-owned devices in most regions, and why cybersecurity experts continue to sound the alarm about the app, because if the above figures reflect the level of activity that non-Chinese platforms are already seeing, you can only imagine that, as TikTok’s influence grows, it too will be high on the list of distribution for the same material.

And we don’t have the same level of transparency into TikTok’s enforcement efforts, nor do we have a clear understanding of parent company ByteDance’s links to the CCP.

Which is why the threat of a possible TikTok ban remains, and will linger for some time yet, and could still spill over if there’s a shift in U.S./China relations.

One other point of note from Meta’s Adversarial Threat Report is its summary of AI usage for such activity, and how it’s changing over time.

X owner Elon Musk has repeatedly pointed to the rise of generative AI as a key vector for increased bot activity, because spammers will be able to create more complex, harder to detect bot accounts through such tools. That’s why X is pushing towards payment models as a means to counter bot profile mass production.

And while Meta does agree that AI tools will enable threat actors to create larger volumes of convincing content, it also says that it hasn’t seen evidence “that it will upend our industry’s efforts to counter covert influence operations” at this stage.

Meta also makes this interesting point:

“For sophisticated threat actors, content generation hasn’t been a primary challenge. They rather struggle with building and engaging authentic audiences they seek to influence. This is why we have focused on identifying adversarial behaviors and tactics used to drive engagement among real people. Disrupting these behaviors early helps to ensure that misleading AI content does not play a role in covert influence operations. Generative AI is also unlikely to change this dynamic.”

So it’s not just content that they need, but interesting, engaging material, and because generative AI is based on everything that’s come before, it’s not necessarily built to establish new trends, which would then help these bot accounts build an audience.

These are some interesting notes on the current threat landscape, and how coordinated groups are still looking to use digital platforms to spread their messaging. Which will likely never stop, but it is worth noting where these groups originate from, and what that means for related discussion.

You can read Meta’s Q3 “Adversarial Threat Report” here.



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