Cracking Down on Misinformation
New efforts are afoot among some of the world’s leading tech giants to curb the widespread dissemination of misinformation on the Internet. The role that companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter should take in preventing the spreading of inaccurate or misleading information on their platforms has become a hot topic in recent years, but it now looks like some are prepared to take some action.
Many of the latest (and most significant) efforts are currently being rolled out in India, specifically by YouTube and Facebook.
According to recent reporting on the topic by Buzzfeed News, India’s unique situation has put YouTube on the front lines of the battle against misinformation. You see, India has some of the cheapest data prices in the world — meanwhile, millions of Indians are beginning to access the Internet for the first time in their lives. This combination has created an atmosphere in which many users are “consuming information through YouTube videos instead of reading text, and using the platform like a search engine,” according to the Buzzfeed report.
Currently the feature is only available to some YouTube users in India, but the company has stated that it plans to roll it out globally across the platform.
Meanwhile — also in India — Facebook is broadening its fact-checking network, adding at least five new partners last month to contribute to the effort of dispelling misinformation. According to a report in The Economic Times, the additional fact-checking partners will help “combat the spread of ‘fake news’ on [the] platform ahead of general elections this year,”
The service will be used for content posted in a number of languages, including English, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi, the company stated. The move comes as the social network continues to take heat over its ability to be used by bad actors to sway public opinion through the spreading of inaccurate, deceptive or misleading information.
How well this plays out during this year’s election cycle in India could portend how the social network will approach the 2020 elections in the United States.
And speaking of Facebook, the company also announce last week that it will crack down on groups and pages that share anti-vaccine misinformation or “vaccine controversies.” While Facebook stopped short of removing the groups and pages altogether, The Verge last week reported that the social network will tweak its algorithm so that such pages no longer appear in searches or recommendations.
These types of pages and groups are responsible for creating what some experts call a “pseudoscientific echo chamber,” perpetuating widely-debunked myths, and creating what Congressman Adam Schiff described in a recent letter to Facebook as “a direct threat to public health.”
Facebook also announced that it will no longer allow advertisers to target users that the network’s algorithm has identified as interested in “vaccine controversies.”
Clearly, there is a fine line which must be navigated between freedom of expression and civic responsibility. As the 2020 elections approach, I imagine it will be really interesting to watch how these large platforms navigate this space.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/14/19