It’s no secret that social media has taken a turn away from connecting people, and more so used as a tool to spread information, regardless of whether the information is true or not. As investigators, we are well-versed in social media and the tech world, and we feel it necessary to keep you updated on these platforms in this world’s climate.
You may recall Congress holding an “antitrust hearing” in July 2020 in an attempt to hold the most powerful tech companies, to include Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, accountable. According to an article by Evelyn Mateos of editorandpublisher.com, “Some of the concerns expressed included how the companies abused their market power to prevent rivals from threatening their position, as well as concerns regarding privacy, security and the proliferation of misleading information on their platforms. These hearings hint that more regulation may happen in the future.”
Here are the highlights from the article, hearings, and what we may be faced with in the future in regard to utilizing some of the aforementioned platforms and others:
Lawmakers at the Congressional hearing focused the search engine, as Google has been accused of “lifting content from other websites to keep users in an enclosed environment of its search engine in order to make more advertising dollars.”
Mateos stated, “YouTube, a Google product, has also been battling misinformation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform, along with others including Facebook and Twitter, successfully blocked Plandemic: Indoctornation—a follow-up to Plandemic, a video promoting falsehoods about the pandemic—from going viral on their platforms. The original Plandemic video racked up more than 8 million views across social platforms, with one YouTube version hitting 7.1 million views before it was removed, according to The Verge. But this time around, YouTube quickly began removing full uploads for violating its policies around COVID misinformation. The actions being taken to prevent its spread shows that perhaps progress is possible.”
Additionally, Google is facing some major concerns in Australia, as a newly proposed code of conduct would, “force tech giants to pay for news on their platforms. The News Media Bargaining Code, as it’s called, aims ‘to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.’” According to Mateos, “With this law, Australia is making it clear that a healthy news media industry is essential to democracy and the damage achieved to it by Big Tech can no longer be ignored.”
The Congressional antitrust hearing addressed Facebook’s role in the dissemination of misinformation. This one was hard to miss, as the face of Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was front and center of most news outlets and the subject of memes all over social media platforms. Mateos writes, “House antitrust chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) suggested Facebook allows misinformation to reap advertising dollars. An example he points to is the Breitbart video that circulated on Facebook’s platforms which falsely called hydroxychloroquine a cure for COVID-19. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said such content does not benefit the business and the video was removed for violating the company’s policies. However, Cicilline pointed out it took five hours for the video to be removed but not before 20 million people had already viewed it.”
You may have also noticed that Facebook and Instagram (also owned by Facebook) have created the “Voting Information Center” situated at the top of feeds in an attempt to direct users to accurate information regarding voting, registering to vote, etc.
A “kill switch” to remove all political advertising after November 3rd (Election Day) has been discussed.
Mateos states that, “Facebook also recently announced plans to partner with academics for a new research project, which will study how the 2020 election is playing out on the platform and how it affects things like voter participation and the spread of misinformation. The findings, Facebook said, would be published around mid-2021 at the earliest. If successful, the results could show once and for all social media’s influence in elections.”
Lastly, Facebook is also fighting back against The News Media Bargaining Code in Australia right alongside Google, stating that, “Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.”
TikTok has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as highlighted in our previous newsletter articles, citing security issues by the US government.
TikTok narrowly missed being banned in the United States FOR NOW, but according to Mateos, they have since, “launched tiktokus.info and a new Twitter account (@tiktok_comms) in an effort to fight ‘rumors and misinformation about TikTok proliferating in Washington and in the media.’ Like most other social media platforms, TikTok is trying to stay ahead of misinformation, and that includes fighting misinformation in the lead up to the election. Thus, TikTok has broadened their fact-checking partnerships with PolitiFact and Lead Stories (who already covered misinformation related to COVID-19, climate change and more) to fact-check potential misinformation related to the 2020 U.S. election.”
You may also recall that in July 2020 (it was clearly a busy month), some of Twitter’s most influential users with verified accounts, including Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Apple, and Uber, just to name a FEW out of 130 accounts, were hacked as part of a Bitcoin scam. In response, Twitter attempted to delete the tweets and restrict functions for verified accounts for approximately two hours. Mateos stated, “The hack was just the latest example of how social media platforms are vulnerable, despite the heavy security measures that are put into place.”
According to Mateos, Twitter also indicated over the summer that, “it is was under investigation by the FTC for alleged privacy violations. The company said it inadvertently used phone numbers and email addresses that some users uploaded for security reasons to target them with ads. This move is a potential violation of a 2011 FTC consent ruling in which the company agreed to better protect personal data.”
Twitter joined Facebook, TikTok, etc. in the fight against misinformation on its platform to include a new tool that “enables people to report deliberately misleading information about how to participate in an election or other civic event.”
Mateos noted that, “Twitter also banned political ads last fall, claiming that, ‘political message(s) reach should be earned, not bought.’”
Lastly, Mateos indicating that, “While Twitter has made moves to fight misinformation, the platform has been timid with fact-checking and removing false content.”
We will be closely monitoring any changes to these platforms.