Facebook, Twitter, and Google have taken steps to prevent misinformation regarding the Ukraine crisis from being weaponized on their platforms.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has announced the establishment of a new special operations center staffed by professionals, including native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor the social network 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and respond to issues in real-time.
In Ukraine and Russia, the corporation also developed measures to assist consumers to protect the information in their accounts.
Furthermore, Meta stated that it is taking extensive action to tackle misinformation by increasing third-party fact-checking in Ukraine and Russia, providing more transparency around state-controlled media outlets, prohibiting ads from Russian state media, and demonetizing their accounts — a step that resulted in the Kremlin partially restricting Facebook access in Russia.
According to Julian Sanchez, a senior member at the Cato Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., such restrictions can be a mixed bag for both Facebook and Russia.
“It can make accurate information more difficult to spread, but it also highlights how badly Russia is scrambling to control what its populace sees about the war,” he told TechNewsWorld.
According to Karen Kovacs North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Groups at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, social media firms must walk a solid line between limiting misinformation and remaining viable in authoritarian regimes.
“We don’t want authoritarian states to restrict access to social media because social media and online media are where individuals in those countries acquire news other than what their governments supply,” she explained to TechNewsWorld.
“There’s always the risk that if the platforms are too severe against the governments,” she continued, “that the governments will shut off access, and then the governments will control all of the media.”
Suspending Twitter Ads
The scenario that big tech businesses are in is challenging, according to Richard Ford, CTO of Praetorian, an Austin, Texas-based cybersecurity and compliance firm.
“It’s important that technology supports free speech,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We also want technology to prevent people from abusing their right to free speech.” These systems should not give governments or nation-state actors complete freedom to spread propaganda and disinformation.”
“Moreover,” he continued, “if you start monitoring content on a platform, it has a potential to make you liable for the content you do allow, and things get complicated.”
Twitter, too, announced precautions to protect its users amid the crisis. It said in a series of tweets that it was aggressively monitoring for dangers related to the Ukrainian crisis, including identifying and stopping attempts to spread false and misleading information.
“We’re proactively evaluating Tweets to detect platform manipulation (or other inauthentic conduct) and taking enforcement action over synthetic and manipulated media that gives a false or misleading depiction of what’s going on,” the statement said.
The company also stated that it was actively monitoring vulnerable high-profile accounts, such as journalists, activists, and government representatives and agencies, to mitigate any attempts at a targeted takeover or manipulation and that it was temporarily stopping ads in Ukraine and Russia to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and advertisements do not detract from it.
Google Maps Features Are Suspended
Meanwhile, Google-owned YouTube stated that it would prohibit several Russian organizations, including state-run news outlet RT, from profiting from content broadcast to the streaming video service, as well as ban access to RT and other channels in Ukraine.
Furthermore, Google has disabled some live traffic services in its Maps app in Ukraine. “Google’s restrictions on RT and Maps are likely to have the most instant practical effect on the Russian campaign,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, a Hayward, California-based technology advisory firm.
“The action on Maps should help Ukrainians on the ground who have been eliminating road signs and other information to distract invading Russians,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It’s encouraging to see Google, Twitter, and Facebook acting quickly, but I expect it will be some time before we know how successful their efforts are paying off,” he said.
“In any event,” King added, “it’s better than the hand wringing and thumb-twiddling we’ve seen in recent years while their platforms have been used to propagate misinformation.”
Sanchez noted that the actions platforms have taken to tackle misinformation thus far appear to be minor.
“Several have demonetized Russian state-sponsored media, however, the whole point of being state-sponsored is that you’re not depending on ad revenue to keep the lights on,” he said.
North, on the other hand, argued that Russian misinformation peddlers utilize advertising for more than just profit. “It is quite difficult to infiltrate a social group on a network because it’s usually friends and acquaintances,” she explained, “so we’ve seen people infiltrate by buying ad space and then posting items that feed division as if they were news.”
“By removing the ability to buy ad space, they’re removing the ability for various entities to insert extremely targeted misinformation,” she remarked.
North went on to say that social media companies are working hard to identify and deactivate accounts associated with organizations that spread easily recognized falsehoods.
“However, most government propaganda hasn’t been turned down,” she added on. “It all comes back to the delicate line that the platforms are walking. They’re permitting governments to have their space and communicate their minds because if they’re taken off, their citizens’ access would be cut off.”
Offered Starlink To Ukraine
Elon Musk is another high-profile tech figure who has come to Ukraine’s rescue. He has launched his Starlink satellite internet service across the country and has begun delivering the hardware that citizens will need to use the system.
“Musk’s offer to get Starlink online in Ukraine is intriguing and may be quite helpful,” King observed, “unless the Russians can utilize it themselves or have a method to jam the service.”
While Musk’s action is a good gesture, Sanchez is suspicious of its immediate practical impact.
He said that to connect to the service, a clear line of sight to the satellites is required — which isn’t always possible in metropolitan areas where shelling is causing smoke and throwing up debris — and, more critically, a Starlink terminal, which is in limited supply in Ukraine.
“Under the existing circumstances,” he continued, “bringing a lot more terminals into the nation and distributing them fast appears unlikely.” So, while this may make it more difficult to entirely cut off internet access, in the current context crisis, I suspect it will make much of a difference in terms of whether the general public can get online.
“Overall, keeping satellite internet infrastructure in place undoubtedly makes it more difficult for invaders or authoritarian regimes to quickly destroy connectivity,” Sanchez said.