Saturday, August 4, 2018

Why Its Hard To Prevent Disinformation Programs On Social Media

Russian disinformation campaigns continue to make extensive use of the social media to divide our nation and to weaken democratic institutions in the US and elsewhere.  This article illustrates one the problems that make it hard to block Russian disinformation programs.  Twitter was aware of several Russian disinformation programs and they shut them down.  Many of those programs were also operating on Facebook but they were not blocked by Facebook.  That is because security personnel at Facebook claim that it is too difficult to precisely determine whether the Russian Twitter operators were  identical to similar operators on Facebook.  In other words, Facebook, and perhaps other social media firms, do not have the technical ability to do their job.  Security executives at Facebook also claim that that they have an obligation to promote free speech.  That concern seems to override the importance of protecting their users from disinformation campaigns. 

This will be an ongoing "arms race" between the social media platforms and the Russians in charge of the disinformation programs.  The Russians have demonstrated the ability disguise their operations faster than the social media can identify them.  The Russians may have a more powerful incentive to win that battle than the social media firms.  The payoff from their disinformation programs is large relative to the expense.  That is not true for the social media firms which have a very different incentive system.

Facebook and the other social media firms are actually in the advertising business.  Their revenue comes from advertisers.  Moreover, the price that they charge for ad placements is directly related to the size of their user base and the amount of activity within their user base.  Provocative placements get more attention than mundane placements.  Its also the case that providing security from disinformation operations is an added expense for the social media firms.  These are some of the reasons why Facebook suffered the largest stock market decrease on one day after they reported their quarterly results.  They reported a large decline in their user base and their profit margin declined as they added thousands of employees to their security force.  Facebook was a much more attractive investment before it became a vehicle for disinformation campaigns. Its defense of free speech is also spurious.  Newspapers make most of their money from advertising.  However, they don't permit everyone to publish unedited articles and they even monitor the comments on their opinion pages.  Protecting free speech on Facebook and other social media is less important than enabling disinformation programs that go well beyond meddling in our elections.  The more general goal of the Russian disinformation campaigns is to exploit cultural and racial issues that divide our society and weaken our democratic institutions.  That extends as well to the "world order" that we have created since WW ll.  They found the perfect tool in Donald Trump.

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