London: Facebook is opening up a war room to quickly respond to election hoaxes. Twitter is banning political ads. Google plans to crack down on bogus videos on YouTube. Social media platforms say they are mounting a vigorous campaign against misinformation in the lead up to next month’s general election in the United Kingdom.
Government inaction on online misinformation and digital ad regulations have added to the pressure internet companies are under as they face growing criticism for amplifying false claims during the run up to the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2016 election in the US.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed for the snap December 12 election, in which voters will choose 650 representatives to the House of Commons, hoping his Conservative Party will gain enough seats to break a stalemate over his plan to take Britain out of the EU. And with campaigns barely under way, falsehoods are already spreading online. A video posted this week on Twitter and Facebook by the Conservative Party contains a misleading edit of a television interview with a senior Labour Party figure. The video had been altered to show the official failing to answer a question about Brexit, when, in fact, he responded quickly. The chairman of the Conservative Party called the doctored video lighthearted satire, but it’s part of a serious problem confronting British voters, according to Will Moy, chief executive at Full Fact, an independent, London-based fact-checking organization.
“The biggest risk to people in the UK right now is being lied to by their own politicians,” said Moy, whose organization works with Facebook and others as a third-party fact checker, as does The Associated Press.
Public debate surrounding the 2016 Brexit vote was driven in part by a number of false claims. They included promises that Britain could recoup 350 million pounds per week by leaving the EU an unfounded claim that a survey later found was believed by nearly half of all Britons. The threat has grown alongside the influence of social media and the proliferation of online political ads. The proportion of campaign spending on digital advertising has increased from 0.3 per cent in 2011 to 42.8 per cent in 2017, according to the UK’s Electoral Commission.
“We believe political message reach should be earned and not bought,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted.
Twitter’s ban stands in stark contrast to Facebook’s policy of not fact checking ads from politicians and allowing demonstrably false ads to remain up.
This week a group of 10 UK-based technology researchers, transparency advocates and non-profit tech organizations called on Facebook and Google, which operates YouTube, to follow Twitter’s lead. Despite the criticism, Facebook’s leaders insist they understand the stakes and take the threat of misinformation seriously.