Twitter says it is adding labels to posts with links to Russian state media reports regarding the invasion of Ukraine – Copyright AFP/File Kazuhiro NOGI
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook parent Meta moved Monday to curb the presence on their platforms of Russian state-linked news outlets, which stand accused of pushing misinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The tech platforms have become one of the fronts in the internationally condemned attack, home to sometimes false narratives but also real-time monitoring of a conflict that marks Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis in decades.
Meta said it would be restricting access in the European Union to RT and Sputnik, which Western nations have accused of being Kremlin mouthpieces and serving as a platform to argue for war.
The social media behemoth’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, cited the “exceptional nature of the current situation” in announcing the decision but offered no details.
Just hours earlier, Twitter said it would put warnings on tweets sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media.
Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, wrote that the platform has been seeing more than 45,000 tweets per day that are sharing links to the outlets.
“Our product should make it easy to understand who’s behind the content you see, and what their motivations and intentions are,” he added.
In addition to adding labels that identify the sources of links, Roth said the platform is also “taking steps to significantly reduce the circulation of this content on Twitter.”
Twitter and Facebook have both been hit with access restrictions in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine and are now “largely unusable,” said web monitoring group NetBlocks.
– ‘Kremlin talking points’ –
The European Union had already announced Sunday a ban on RT and Sputnik broadcasting in the bloc, with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen saying they “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify (President Vladimir) Putin’s war.”
A Sputnik report fired back over the moves to restrict its access to social to media, saying the “unprecedented bans are a clear assault on free speech, but you can still follow Sputnik on Telegram.”
The US State Department, in a report published in January, said the outlets equate themselves with public, independent media like the BBC but in fact “serve primarily as conduits for the Kremlin’s talking points.”
“RT and Sputnik are not transparent, and their overall goals appear to be fundamentally different from independent media… the Russian government is closely involved,” the report said.
“The outlets’ reporting and programming openly supports the Kremlin’s positions and policies, and both frequently spread disinformation,” it added.
The outlets are Russia’s primary media directed at non-Russian speakers, with RT offering a global network of channels, websites and social media accounts publishing content in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German as well as Russian, according to the State Department.
News of the RT and Sputnik restrictions came the day after Meta said pro-Russia groups were orchestrating misinformation campaigns on social media, using fake profiles or hacked accounts to paint Ukraine as a feeble pawn of Western duplicity.
The cyber security team at the tech giant — also parent to Instagram — said it blocked a set of Russia-linked fake accounts that were part of a social media scheme to undermine Ukraine.
Meta’s Adding More Ad Targeting Information to its Ad Library Listings
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytics scandal, Meta has implemented a range of data protection measures to ensure that it limits access to users’ personal data and insight, while at the same time, it’s also been working to provide more transparency into how its systems are being used by different groups to target their messaging.
These conflicting approaches require a delicate balance, one which Meta has largely been able to maintain via its Ad Library, which enables anyone to see any ad being run by any Facebook Page in the recent past.
Now, Meta’s looking to add to that insight, with new information being added to the Ad Library on how Pages are using social issue, electoral or political ads in their process.
As you can see here, the updated Ad Library overview will include more specific information on how each advertiser is using these more sensitive targeting options, which could help researchers detect misuse or report concerns.
As explained by Meta:
“At the end of this month, detailed targeting information for social issue, electoral or political ads will be made available to vetted academic researchers through the Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) environment […] Coming in July, our publicly available Ad Library will also include a summary of targeting information for social issue, electoral or political ads run after launch. This update will include data on the total number of social issue, electoral and political ads a Page ran using each type of targeting (such as location, demographics and interests) and the percentage of social issue, electoral and political ad spend used to target those options.”
That’s a significant update for Meta’s ad transparency efforts, which will help researchers better understand key trends in ad usage, and how they relate to messaging resonance and response.
Meta has come under scrutiny over such in the past, with independent investigations finding that housing ads, for example, were illegally using race-based exclusions in their ad targeting. That led to Meta changing its rules on how its exclusions can be used, and this new expansion could eventually lead to similar, by making discriminatory ad targeting easier to identify, with direct examples from Meta’s system.
For regular advertisers, it could also give you some additional insight into your competitors’ tactics. You might find more detailed information on how other brands are honing in on specific audiences, which may not be discriminatory, but may highlight new angles for your own marketing efforts.
It’s a good transparency update, which should glean significant benefits for researchers trying to better understand how Meta’s intricate ad targeting system is being used in various ways.
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