Fighting Fake News on Social Media
Midterm elections are less than three months away and social media is gearing up for another deluge of disinformation.
Voters are bombarded with fake news that sows distrust in the political process. It promotes false narratives and distortions about immigrants, and targets ethnic communities in their own language.
Experts at an EMS briefing on Octovber 7 fear that disinformation is likely to negatively impact future elections because of little push-back to challenge the daily barrage of fake news.
Lack of Control
“What’s different is the way in which we are consuming information has changed, and that has created this monster that we are not able to control, and many times the social media platforms are not able to control,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, deputy director of America’s Voice at the briefing.
Cárdenas is a policy expert on political disinformation. She said that more fake news is out there and is spreading quickly, creating a feedback loop that amplifies false messages to voters.
TikTok Spreads Disinformation On Social Media
Today’s media environment is very different from the past. Disinformation has always existed but what is different is video. With TikTok’s soaring popularity, experts fear that video content may play a larger role in the spread of misinformation this year.
Time magazine reported that “TikTok accounts in Germany impersonated prominent political figures during the country’s last national election. Misleading posts in Colombia falsely attributed quotes from a candidate to a cartoon villain, and videos in the Philippines amplified myths about the country’s former dictator, whose son became president.”
TikTok is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance.
Disinformation Targets Voters In Ethnic Communities
Disinformation is also prevalent within the Chinese-speaking community. At the briefing, Rong Xiaoqing a reporter at the Sing Tao Daily, said that “The most popular one among Chinese is WeChat,” a Chinese mobile app with 3.8 million users in the United States.
“WeChat is the most elusive platform in terms of tracing misinformation as a lot of these discussions happen in chat rooms that are private, making them difficult to track.”
Rong added that WeChat is subject to censorship by the Chinese government, in whose interest it is to promote misinformation regarding the US midterm elections.
Disinformation Spreads False Messages About Immigrants
Misinformation seen on Chinese platforms is designed to play on the fears of the Chinese American population. One misinformation sound-byte alleged that immigrants from the southern border would be given temporary green cards. This claim spread alarm among Chinese immigrants who have been waiting for almost seven years for their green cards, said Rong. They felt others were usurping their place in the line for permanent residency.
“One type of message on the Chinese platforms I think is quite original,” said Rong. “It ties the American Democratic Party to the Chinese Communist Party. If you believe these messages then you will believe that all officials, including the Republicans who are shown to be Republican in name only, are all working for the Chinese Communist Party, CCP!”
Fake News On Social Media Channels
A video has resurfaced recently stating the Democrats don’t represent the interests of the United States but the CCP, said Rong.
“The Democratic Party during the midterm elections has beautified itself,” the messages warn “but do not donate to them because many of them, including Mitch McConnell, is an agent of CCP.”
Rong tracks a YouTuber who asked her followers to keep spreading the “big lie” about stolen election in 2020 election, urging them to make sure it does not happen again.
PiYaoBa (Let’s Fact-Check It) is the first Chinese language fact-check website to counter the spread of right-wing disinformation and systematically monitor and document disinformation. It tracks key actors and narratives across multiple platforms and traces the origin of rumors. For instance the rumor that Michelle Obama is transgender was traced by PiYaoba to a joke made by Joan Rivers, that was distorted.
“In today’s world that is dominated by social media, the traditional media is lagging behind in debunking this misinformation,” said Rong. These include YouTube, Twitter, and WeChat.
Monitoring Disinformation is Challenging
Monitoring videos that contain misinformation is challenging. Mekela Panditharatne of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program noted “Unfortunately, voters of color and voters who speak languages other than English are often the target.”
Panditharatne suggested that voters should be careful when they see information that seems suspicious or “particularly emotionally charged.”
“You can try to get a better context from authoritative and trusted sources,” she said. “It’s generally a best practice not to amplify misinformation by reposting it online.”