Will Trump mess up the 2020 census?

Disinformation and social media: US scientist recommends Europe as a role model

After Donald Trump was elected US President in November 2016, American journalists did not save themselves with self-criticism. The political newcomer was underestimated too much and the influence of the established media was overestimated too much. Two factors that contributed significantly to Trump's victory. He had mastered the mechanisms of online media for himself. This time the journalists want to be prepared for it. Around seven months before the election on November 3, the fight against manipulation, disinformation and fake news is at the top of the agenda in the social networks.

External and internal threat

US intelligence agencies recently warned that this campaign could be even more vulnerable to hostile influence than the last. Russia interferes again. And not just in favor of Republican Trump, but also in favor of Democrat Bernie Sanders. The logic behind it: Sanders is too left to win against Trump - and therefore the right candidate from the Russian point of view. But manipulation is not only threatened from abroad. The Republican Party also promoted disinformation four years ago. Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Robert came to this conclusion in their book "Network Propaganda", published in 2018, in which they intensively analyze the situation in 2016.

At the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Anya Schiffrin would have spoken about exactly these problems this week. But the coronavirus pandemic is currently not only upsetting the election campaign in the USA, it has also led to the cancellation of the festival in Italy. The head of the Department of Media, Technologies and Communication at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University responded to requests via email. She names solutions to the trends in social media that endanger democracy and society.

36 percent untrustworthy websites

It is up to the journalists themselves to "restore faith in the media," says Shiffrin (keyword: fact-checking). "Basically," she says, "the decline in trust in the media is at least partly due to a failure to counter the flood of false and inaccurate claims made in today's information wars."

Flood is not an exaggeration, according to a statistic from NewsGuard. According to figures published in February by the start-up founded in 2018 to create more transparency in the online area, 36 percent of the US news websites checked were not considered reliable. NewsGuard also found that more than one in ten interactions with messages on Twitter and Facebook are related to content from unreliable websites. This disinformation - be it consciously or unconsciously brought into circulation - needs to be reduced.

With another proposed solution, Schiffrin makes the supervisory bodies in her home country responsible: "I am a great supporter of regulations such as those in Europe. Like all my colleagues, I am in favor of abolishing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act", she says. This paragraph protects Internet service providers from legal measures that could arise as a result of user actions. Facebook & Co. are therefore not obliged to prevent fake news. A quick change in the law is not in sight. Which is why Schiffrin generally calls for "more efforts by technology companies". For example, when it comes to the increased "disclosure of sources of political advertising" in the social networks.

Twitter is exemplary - Facebook under fire

Twitter, Spotify, LinkedIn and TikTok have now completely banned political advertising to contain false reports. After all, Google and its subsidiary YouTube restricted the options for placing targeted election advertising and also emphasized that false information in any advertising violated the internal rules of the platforms. Nevertheless, the market research company eMarketer reported in mid-February that spending on digital political advertising in the US for the 2019/2020 cycle will reach a record high, exceeding the one billion US dollar mark for the first time. The majority of the total of $ 1.34 billion is on Facebook.

The social media platform founded by Mark Zuckerberg has come under the most criticism in the course of the current presidential campaign. The reason: As early as October, Zuckerberg confirmed that election advertising on Facebook - unlike other content - is not checked for truthfulness. A few weeks ago, around 2000 misleading election advertisements from Trump were subsequently deleted from the platform.

They had violated the platform's guidelines because they established a connection to the census, which is also taking place this year. Users were asked to take part in a poll allegedly carried out by the official US census. In truth, when users filled in, they were giving their details and other personal information to a Trump campaign website. Facebook decided in December to ban disinformation in the course of the census. It is all the more surprising that election advertisements were still distributed.

Instagram influencers as election workers

The Instagram platform, which belongs to the parent company Facebook, also tempted a presidential candidate in the current election campaign to test the rules of social networks and their implementation. Mike Bloomberg, who has since retired from the Democratic candidate race, paid Instagram influencer to spread humorous messages about him. These were not marked as political advertisements. Only then did Facebook change its labeling rules in February.

The internal regulations of social networks as tools against manipulation, disinformation and fake news should therefore be treated with caution. Media expert Schiffrin is also convinced of this. For a problem solution that goes beyond the area of ​​responsibility of journalists, she therefore advocates a "mix of internal regulatory measures of the platforms and state regulations". (Michael Stadler, April 4th, 2020)

Michael Stadler is a sports journalist and is completing the part-time master's degree in "Journalism and New Media".

Virtual journalism festival: Year after year, students of the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the Vienna University of Applied Sciences report to the WKW about the International Journalism Festival (IJF) in Perugia. Like countless major events, the 2020 festival was canceled due to the corona virus. The students now report on topics on derStandard.at and talk to people who should speak and discuss at the festival in 2020 - a small, virtual journalism festival. More texts under this link.

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