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Russia using Facebook, Twitter to manipulate public opinion in Ukraine - Oxford University's study

Russia using Facebook, Twitter to manipulate public opinion in Ukraine - Oxford University's studyPropaganda on social media is being used to manipulate public opinion around the world, a new set of studies from the University of Oxford has revealed.

This is reported by The Guardian.

From Russia, where around 45% of highly active Twitter accounts are bots, to Taiwan, where a campaign against President Tsai Ing-wen involved thousands of heavily co-ordinated – but not fully automated – accounts sharing Chinese mainland propaganda, the studies show that social media is an international battleground for dirty politics.

The reports, part of the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, cover nine nations also including Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and the United States.

They found “the lies, the junk, the misinformation” of traditional propaganda is widespread online and “supported by Facebook or Twitter’s algorithms” according to Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at Oxford.

Russian propaganda on social media is well known in the west for its external-facing arm, including allegations of state involvement in the US and French presidential elections. But the nation’s social media is also heavily infiltrated with digital propaganda domestically according to the report on that country.

Samuel Woolley, the project’s director of research, adds: “Russia is the case to look to to see how a particularly powerful authoritarian regime uses social media to control people.”

If Russia is the progenitor of many of the techniques seen worldwide, then Ukraine is the example of how the conflict might progress. There, says Woolley, “we’re seeing how computational propaganda will be in five years because the country is a testing ground for current Russian tactics.”

As a result, however, civil society organizations dedicated to tackling the problem are similarly advanced.

The report on the country’s efforts to tackle Russian misinformation highlights the StopFake project, a collaborative effort to tackle fake stories “produced mainly by the Russian media”. It also mentions a Chrome extension that allowed automatic blocking of thousands of Russian websites, and even a straightforward ban from the government aimed at certain Russian social networks, including VKontakte and Yandex, as part of the country’s sanctions against Russia.

The reports suggested an apparent disinterest from the social media firms in how their networks were being used. Facebook, for instance, leaves most of its anti-propaganda work to external organisations such as Snopes and the Associated Press, who operate semi-autonomous fact-checking teams aimed at marking viral news stories as true or false while Twitter’s anti-bot systems are effective at fighting commercial activity on the site, but seem less able or willing to take down automated accounts engaging in political activity.
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