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Facing propaganda

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A new report by digital rights organization Digital Reach has found that despite social media platforms’ emphasis on weeding out false content to counter disinformation, it failed to stop the coordinated spread of false and twisted narratives that favored the eventual winner of the 2022 polls, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The report found that the online disinformation that helped catapult Marcos Jr. to the presidency – which had been “years in the making” – was widely disseminated by a network of trolls and credentialed figures that platforms could not stop from reposting dubious content that had already been previously taken down.

Even as they partnered with the Commission on Elections, social media platforms still “overlooked the dynamics” of how bad actors “went beyond efforts to misinform and disinform Filipino voters… to sow distrust and sap confidence in the electoral system and voting process at large,” according to the study.

“Mitigation efforts by social media platforms during the election were superficial. They failed to deeply consider the dynamics of the situation – namely how platforms could be weaponized during the elections,” the study stated.

The study, titled “Operating the Propaganda Machine: Social Media Accountability in the 2022 Philippine Election,” documented how pro-Marcos accounts took advantage of the ease with which content can be reposted across platforms as well as social media giants’ limited policies on political ads.

Social media platforms had announced prior to the elections that they would remove content deemed as disinformation and misinformation. But “the intensity of information disorders and their widespread dissemination via coordinated networks” showed the approach to be largely ineffective, the study said.

“While social media platforms made efforts to handle information disorders in collaboration with fact checking entities and initiatives, the battle against malicious content was lost. It appeared in such high volumes that it was able to dominate the platforms,” the report added.

Social media giants’ policies on political ads also “did not have a significant impact on the tackling of information disorders in the election.” “Disinformation and misinformation were still being advertised on the platform, and Facebook still received money from it,” the study added.

Other platforms that decided to outright ban political ads, such as TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube, also failed to prevent the coordinated spread of disinformation, many of which were posted by non-candidates.

“If the 2016 election was the first time social media platforms became aware of such manipulations in the Philippines, the election six years later showed that they still lack effective solutions for preventing them,” the study said.

The parties who set out to exploit social media platforms have proven that it is easily done. Will government and the private sector be able to adapt and defend the truth or should we just steel ourselves to deal with these sources of misinformation and disinformation as time goes by?*

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