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Twitter Constant Struggles, New Partnerships and New Experiments

Credit: S├ębastien Thibault

With online platforms becoming rife with bots, troll farms and users spreading propaganda, there are deep concerns about how reliable and accurate “news narratives” on social media platforms like Twitter are. Misinformation and disinformation both contribute to the spread of false information on social media platforms, but are notably different in intention. While misinformation is often falsely held beliefs that are mistaken for truths, disinformation suggests that information has been deliberately manipulated, usually for political gain.

The BBC recently discovered a network of fake accounts intent on controlling and distorting narratives surrounding the Chinese Government and the US, in order to silence politically critical voices that were deemed against the Chinese Government. The BBC has gone on to suggest that the operation is potentially linked to The Communist Party in China, in retaliation to the reports of human rights abuses taking place against Uyghur Muslims with state-backed intentions of spreading unverified and false information.

This is far from an isolated case concerning possible state-controlled disinformation. Cuba has also been in political hot water in regards to disinformation circulating online. Twitter is becoming one of the main breeding grounds for disputed claims. The claims that were reported painted protesters in a dangerous light. Numerous Criminal actions surfaced on the platform and were said to be committed by the protesters, including a report that harm had come to a provincial Communist Party Chief at the hands of protesters, and there were also claims that Cuba was to receive troops from Caracas to regain order in the country. Both have been confirmed to be false. In July, the Biden Administration declared their support for the protesters in Cuba.

Newsweek went on further to say that the disinformation, which rapidly circulated all over Twitter, was mostly from fake accounts that were set up on the same day. This seemed to follow public protests that had been happening in Cuba in response to shortages in food, and other basic human rights. Newsweek followed reports of the US is trying to destabilise the country, as well as government officials in Cuba, are at the centre of the plot, as dissidents are not tolerated in Cuban society. Both theories remain unconfirmed.




There are still posts containing disinformation available on Twitter. Many include videos and images from years ago, or in a completely different location - with media selected to manipulate events and place the details out of context, in an attempt to appear credible. The post above contains a stock photo (on the right), of the Labour Day march in Havana from 2018.


Earlier this month, several Twitter accounts that looked like they belonged to legitimate news organisations posted similar tweets claiming that an American journalist had been executed by members of the Taliban in Kabul:

 

 

Source: Archive Today via PolitiFact 



The post above shows one of the fake BBC accounts tweeting about the man’s death in Kabul. Highlighting the problems in sharing information from accounts that are not verified.


PolitiFact analysed these sources and found that the supposedly executed man’s name had popped up in searches dating back to August 2020. He was previously reported to be a possible victim of the fuel explosion in Lebanon. Both accounts, along with the man himself, proved to be entirely fictional. The accounts responsible for manufacturing the story have been suspended.


While Twitter has been known to flag up, remove and dilute the visibility of problematic tweets, demonstrated throughout the presidential election. Many tweets by former President Donald Trump failed to meet the community guidelines. In an effort to cancel out fraudulent information with correct information, Twitter would often embed a hyperlink below to redirect users to informed sources.

 


Source: The Yucatan Times

 


According to Social Media Today, changes to Twitter’s labelling system are underway. Twitter is in the testing process for a three-tier process in an effort to reduce the spread of misinformation. The labelling features will be split into three alerts: Get the Latest, Stay Informed, and Misleading. The first to accommodate fast-changing news reports, with links to find out the newest information. The second relating to evolving and ongoing news stories, for example, COVID-19, where links to key authorities will be embedded in case information is not 100% accurate. Misleading will be applied to disinformation to warn readers that tweets are deliberately fallacious.

 


Source: Social Media Today

 


It is unclear yet how the misleading label will work in the long run, and whether it will make any difference to false information spreading on the platform. If people are still able to interact with the tweet and even see the tweet then the misinformation, even if addressed, still exists on the site. Another problem with Twitter’s labelling system, in general, is that they don’t seem to have much impact on narratives from key figures. On many occasions, fake news can travel faster than legitimate news, and Donald Trump is a notable case study of this problem on social media. CNBC covered the story in January this year and claimed that, in fact, the election falsehoods stated by Trump became his most popular tweets. It is difficult for the public to put their trust in social media, with worries that platforms are never fully politically impartial, and that being politically neutral is more of an illusion than a reality. Whether those views and perceptions of social media platforms have a substantial basis is unclear.