TL;DR: Social media is all about authentic, human-to-human interactions. So what do you do when those interactions are being faked, and even worse, scaling, spreading unverified information at rates the platforms can’t control?
Both Facebook and Twitter have emphasized cleanup of fake accounts and foreign influence this year ahead of the midterm elections, between them purging billions of false, dated or dangerous accounts in an effort to increase credibility and security for users. Despite these efforts, it seems that social media is undergoing a crisis as companies attempt to return order and restore confidence.
Facebook began launching features to increase transparency and verify political content, such as allowing users view information on political ad placement within its platform. And between February and August, Facebook removed 1.3 billion fake accounts. The platform has said between 3 and 4 percent of all accounts should be considered fake.
Facebook promised to increase its safety and security during the upcoming election season, doubling the number of employees on hand to 20,000. It will even have a physical “war room” to monitor the midterm elections for foreign interference, including ad reviews.
Facebook noted the company is spending so much money monitoring political ads that it will actually hurt profits. Twelve days before the midterms, Facebook removed more than 80 Facebook and Instagram accounts that were responsible for what the platform is calling “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Twitter is also making significant moves: in May 2018, Twitter rolled out election labels for midterm candidates to inform users which accounts were officially tied to politicians. This summer, the platform completed the largest purge to date, removing 6 percent of the total platform follower count by deleting fake, dated, or inauthentic accounts in multiple phases.
Twitter kept up with its promise to be transparent and prevent election interference. The platform reported that 9 million tweets came from one Russian troll farm to spread propaganda.
The progress has been astounding, but is it working? Sort of. It’s a numbers game. Even as companies take steps to safeguard users from a second election interference, parties who want to interfere become more sophisticated. And it seems that we can’t put the viral genie back in the bottle.
The New York Times also recently analyzed five social media posts that have gone “viral,” claiming to relate to the immigrant caravan. They found that of the five posts analyzed, all were using images taken dating back to 2010, and none depicted the actual migrants currently moving through Mexico.
All this seems to confirm what we already feared — although the platforms are taking steps to protect us, parties with an interest in misleading the public are getting better at spreading unverified information at alarming scales.
A game of whack-a-mole is only winnable in an arcade: Bad actors, foreign influence and viral headlines are a part of our online lives in 2018. We can’t depend on Facebook and Twitter to have all the answers. In the age of information, it’s be up to the individual to do their research and denounce falsehoods. Social media has the power to bring the world together, but as we’ve seen, rip communities apart. Let’s come together.
Social media has changed how we approach elections in many ways — read about the latest platform updates and how they affect publishers moving forward.