Is Facebook turning into Facebook?
|Is Facebook turning into Facebook?|
The announcement of the Reconquista Nordschwaben organization from the beginning of April, entitled “Greens are authentically starting the election campaign for the European Parliament 2019”, is still circulating on the Internet. Below the headline is a photo of the Greens’ premises in Donauvert with posters with the slogans “Fight the Nazis by all means” and “Death to the white German man”. Of course, this is a malicious, fake photograph aimed at denigrating the German Green Party. The posters were removed the same evening but the image can still be found online.
But if you want to forward this post to other users on Facebook, you will receive a warning that “Corrective and dpa-Faktenček doubt the accuracy” of this information. DPA is an abbreviation for Deutsche Press Agentur, the most important news agency in Germany. This agency is just one of about 40 organizations that deal with checking suspicious content on social networks in Europe.
Facebook is still learning from its mistakes
The photo of the Greens’ election headquarters is just one of many examples of the targeted spread of untruths with the purpose of changing political attitudes. It is still unknown how effective such propaganda is. However, even if only a small number of voters change their minds due to false news, this could have a major impact on the outcome of the upcoming European Parliament elections.
The number of Facebook users is oscillating in Europe, but this social network is still an important platform for exchanging opinions. Semyon Rance, one of Facebook’s managers for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, admits that his company realized late that there was a danger.
“We did badly with that topic in the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Rance says. This was also shown by the report of the special investigator of the FBI, Robert Mueller, in which it is claimed that the Russians are through various channels, including the organization. Internet Research Agency (IRA) systematically spread untruths to contribute to Donald Trump’s victory.
At a forum on fake news in Hamburg, Rance tried to convince other participants that Facebook had taken significant steps in the meantime and instructed a large number of associates to work on the problem. However, the problem is that they need reliable partners locally, and it is not easy to find them even in all European Union countries. Germany is somewhat of an exception, because the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology responded quickly to the call from Facebook.
How to get the right data?
An additional complication is that the European Union is much more complex than the United States: if nothing else, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, virtually the same election regulations apply in all federal states. “We are dealing here (in Europe) with completely different election laws in the 28 member states,” complains Rance. It turned out that only a few weeks before the election, the so-called “Library of Propaganda” was launched – a project that shows users which political party or group is behind a particular political ad, and how much was paid for that ad.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Alexander Zengerlaub of the New Responsibility Foundation in Berlin. “We are very curious to see how it will work.” But there are also problems here: paid advertisements of political parties are just one of many political categories on social networks. Access is restricted for most of these categories. Admittedly, certain addresses that are believed to spread inaccurate information can be analyzed individually, but Zengerlaub believes that this is by no means enough. “In disinformation campaigns, it is often not at all clear who exactly is spreading this lie and what their real message is.” He demands that investigators get unrestricted access to all published messages so that quality information can be obtained from that data.
Towards elections with “closed eyes”
Such a request is understandable, but in practice it can lead us in an undesirable direction. Because that was exactly the method of the now infamous company Cambridge Analytica, which targeted the political attitude of the users. Facebook then closed everyone’s access to that information. Semyon Rance says access is now allowed again, but only for certain scientists and research. However, it is still not clear who these scientists are, so Zengerlaub complains that “we are also flying towards the European elections with our eyes closed.”
Facebook controls two other popular social networks: Instagram and Vocap (Whatsapp). On the Vocap mobile app, it’s even harder to track the spread of untruths.
“This platform is encrypted from start to finish, which means that the data is not saved on Facebook,” says Rance. But here we come to the principle – what is more important, to stop untruths or to protect the privacy of citizens? It is not easy to find the right balance here, although in the case of Vocap it is not so important for the European elections. In the elections in Brazil, that platform played a big role, but on European soil, it is not so widespread. In addition, Vocap’s management has already introduced measures to restrict the forwarding of messages, in order to prevent the uncontrolled spread of false news.
The race of real media with the internet
In the end, the question arises – who is actually spreading untrue information. The most common fake news comes from fake user profiles, and Facebook representative Semyon Rance claims that such users are constantly deleted and removed. But the problem is that more and more people want to remain “invisible” on the Internet and do not believe that Facebook will preserve their true identity.
There are also trolls and hackers who work for some states or services that are interested in spreading misinformation. Unfortunately, the sources of untruths are increasingly the “real” media that practice bad journalism. In an effort to be faster even than social networks, the classic media are increasingly “forgetting” to seriously check the information at their disposal. In addition, there is quite deliberate and concrete misinformation that serves state propaganda. This category includes, for example, the anti-Semitic and anti-European posters of Hungarian Prime Minister Orban.
There is no substitute for a brain involved
Unfortunately, such tactics are used by initiatives and parties that can be expected to have a fair relationship with the public. An initiative was recently launched in Bavaria to hold a referendum on the conservation of animal species. At the forefront of the campaign was the claim that bees were threatened with extinction. In reality, although many insects and other animals are endangered, bees are doing relatively well. Either way, the proponents of the referendum won a landslide victory.
There can be only one conclusion: no matter what information you get and where it comes from, you should always think carefully about it. And that regardless of whether we get that information on social networks or in “real” life.