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Big Tech Firms Move To Squash Deceptive Info on Ukraine Crisis

Big Tech Firms Move To Squash Deceptive Info on Ukraine Crisis

A number of social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, have taken steps to prevent their platforms from being weaponized by spreaders of false information regarding the Ukraine issue.

Earlier this month, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced the creation of a new special operations center staffed by professionals, including native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor and react to concerns on the social network around the clock.

In addition, the corporation has implemented new features in Ukraine and Russia to assist consumers in protecting the information stored in their accounts.

As part of its efforts to combat the spread of misinformation, Meta stated that it is increasing third-party fact-checking in Ukraine and Russia, increasing transparency around state-controlled media outlets, prohibiting advertisements from Russian state media, and demonetizing their accounts — a move that resulted in the Kremlin temporarily restricting Facebook access in the country.

According to Julian Sanchez, a senior scholar at the Cato Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., such a limitation may be a mixed blessing for both Facebook and Russia.

In an interview with Dailion, he said that although this may make factual information more difficult to spread, it also makes it more evident how urgently Russia is attempting to influence what its citizens think about the conflict.

Karen Kovacs North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, highlighted that social media businesses must walk a tight line between suppressing disinformation and being competitive in authoritarian regimes.

In an interview with Dailion, she said that “we do not want authoritarian states to shut off access to social media since social media and digital media are where individuals in such countries acquire news that is different from that supplied by their governments.”

“There’s always the worry that if the platforms are too severe against the governments,” she added, “that the governments will shut off access, and then the government would have complete control over all of the media.”

Twitter Suspending Ads

This is a difficult predicament for large technology businesses to be in, according to Dr. Richard Ford, Chief Technology Officer of Praetorian, a cybersecurity and compliance company based in Austin, Texas.

“We want technology to encourage free expression – that’s critical,” he told Dailion in an interview. In addition, we would want to see technology used to prevent misuse of this right to free expression.” These mechanisms should not give governments or nation-state actors carte blanche to use propaganda and misinformation for their own reasons.”

As he said, “additionally, as soon as you begin censoring material on an online platform, there is a propensity for that to hold your company accountable for the stuff you do allow, which complicates matters further.

Twitter, like other social media platforms, has outlined measures to safeguard its users amid the crisis. It said in a series of tweets that it was aggressively monitoring for dangers related to the war in Ukraine, including detecting and interrupting efforts to disseminate false and misleading information about the conflict.

According to the statement, “We are proactively evaluating Tweets to identify platform manipulation (or other inauthentic conduct), and taking enforcement action against synthetic and manipulated material that gives a false or misleading representation of what’s occurring.”

As part of its proactive monitoring, the company said it was temporarily pausing advertisements in Ukraine and Russia in order to ensure that critical public safety information is elevated and that advertisements do not detract from it. The company said it was actively monitoring vulnerable high-profile accounts, such as journalists, activists, and government officials and agencies, in order to mitigate any attempts at a targeted takeover or manipulation.

Google Suspends Map Features

Moreover, YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced that it would prohibit certain Russian businesses from profiting from videos posted on the streaming video service, including state-owned news outlet RT. The company also announced that it would restrict access to RT and some other channels in Ukraine.

In addition, Google has disabled several real-time traffic features in its Maps application in the Ukrainian market. Charles King, the chief analyst at Pund-IT, a technology advising business in Hayward, California, said that Google’s limits on RT and Maps “are likely to have the greatest immediate practical impact on the Russian operation.”

In an interview with Dailion, he said that “the action on Maps should support the efforts of Ukrainians on the ground who have been deleting road signs and other information in order to confound the invading Russians.”

The fact that Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other corporations are acting with haste is encouraging, but it will be some time before we know how effectively their efforts are working, according to Mr. Cohen.

It’s certainly preferable to the hand-wringing and thumb-twiddling that we’ve seen over the last several years while their platforms have been utilized to propagate disinformation, King concluded.

Ads for Access

Sanchez argued that the actions platforms have made so far to counteract disinformation seem to be minor in comparison to other types of deception.

According to him, “Several have demonetized Russian state-sponsored media, but the entire purpose of being state-sponsored is that you are not reliant on ad money to keep the lights on, so that by itself probably has little impact on the propaganda flow.”

North, on the other hand, emphasized that Russian disinformation propagandists employ advertising for more than just financial gain. ‘Because social groups on social media are often comprised of friends and acquaintances, it’s difficult to penetrate them,’ she said, “we’ve seen individuals infiltrate them by purchasing advertising space and then posting items that exacerbate division as if they were news.”

In her words, “by removing the ability to purchase ad space, they’re removing the ability for different corporations to place highly targeted disinformation on the internet.”

North went on to say that social media firms are making an attempt to identify groups that are producing plainly recognizable disinformation and to take down the accounts associated with such organizations.

Nevertheless, she claimed, “the vast majority of government propaganda has not been taken down.” “It all comes down to the delicate line that the platforms are walking. They’re enabling governments to have their place and express themselves because if they’re shut down, their people would be shut down as well.”

Starlink Offered to Ukraine

Elon Musk is another high-profile tech figure who has come to the rescue of Ukraine. He has launched his Starlink satellite internet service across the nation and has begun shipping the gear that individuals will need in order to connect to the system to their homes and businesses.

As King pointed out, “Musk’s promise to put Starlink online in Ukraine is enticing and may be highly beneficial unless the Russians are capable of using it themselves or possess a means of jamming the service.”

Despite the fact that Musk’s action is a kind gesture, Sanchez is skeptical about its practical significance in the near future.

He explained that in order to connect to the service, a clear line of sight to the satellites is required — something that isn’t always possible in urban areas where shelling is spewing smoke and kicking up debris — and, even more importantly, a Starlink terminal is required, which is currently in short supply in Ukrainian cities.

“Under the existing conditions,” he said, “bringing a large number of additional terminals into the nation and distributing them swiftly seems to be unlikely.” As a result, although it may be more difficult to totally shut off internet connection, I doubt that it will make much of a difference in terms of whether or not the general public is able to go online in the present situation.”

Sanchez ended, saying that having satellite internet infrastructure in place makes it “definitely more difficult for invaders or authoritarian governments to quickly remove access.”

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