A US-based media reform coalition recently called out social media giants for not making its promise of reform in fighting against widespread misinformation and hate contents into their platforms, calling the efforts weak and full of empty promises. They advised reporters covering the tech sector to ‘take nothing from the platforms at face value’
The Free Press group is part of a coalition of more than 60 civil and consumer rights organizations called Change The Terms, which called on FB, Youtube, Tik Tok and Twitter this year to implement a 15 priority reforms that would “fight algorithmic amplification of hate and lies, protect users across all languages and increase company transparency.”
The coalition asked for the implementation of priority reforms vs disinformation and hate contents ahead of the US midterm elections. In recent years, US elections have become a test as to whether methods and policies against disinformation have improved.
Free Press said that they found these companies’ efforts severely lacking, sharing key findings. “All four companies have failed to provide sufficient data to show whether there are significant gaps in the application and enforcement of their policies”.
“Exacerbating the problem is the difficulty in keeping track, as the companies have created a labyrinth of company commitments, announcements, and policies” it added.
For example, the coalition said that Meta policies fully meet only two of the 15 demands such as banning calls to arms and apply third-party fact-checkers to political ads. It is important to note that TikTok and Twitter both don’t allow political ads outright. TikTok meets only one demand which is also banning calls to arms.
Moreover, all four companies fail to close what they call “newsworthiness” or “public interest” exceptions which are given to politicians and other prominent users, allowing them to post something that may be false. Under the policy, the posts can be kept online, with the companies claiming that what the public figure says is newsworthy. The group calls the policy “arbitrary” and can be often just used as a get out of jail free card.
Meanwhile, video platforms TikTok and YouTube don’t report “denominators” on violative videos which would give context on how many people were able to view the videos or the length of time the videos stayed up before they were eventually taken down. Free Press laments that when platforms report content takedowns but do not provide the complete picture.
Another example was that YouTube previously touted having removed more than 4 million violative videos from April to June 2022. But the platform “does not report what the ratio is to all videos that existed on the platform during that period.” Without such context, it is hard to assess the percentage of videos on YouTube that are violative, the group said.
Free Press said that “Although tech companies had promised to fight disinformation and hate on their platforms this fall, there is a notable gap between what the companies say they want to do and what they actually do in practice. In sum, platforms do not have sufficient policies, practices, AI or human capital in place to materially mitigate harm ahead of and during the November midterms. We cannot take these companies at their word. We need transparent records of their implementation of safety mechanisms and application of their own policies.”
On assessing each company, Free Press said that while Meta’s regular announcements seem promising, “they are just that: promises”.
The group’s investigation found that instances, posts containing false claims on US electoral fraud, such as those targeting electoral workers, remained on the platform and “slipped through the cracks continue to spread” They also observed slower work on non-English disinformation.
Free Press said that Meta also eliminated a “Responsible Innovation” team which had civil rights experts, and combined multiple civic integrity teams, which internal sources have said was a cost-cutting move.
The group also discovered false claims of US electoral fraud on TikTok, with one user repeatedly being able to rejoin even as TikTok took action. Twitter policies were found to have been lacking in detail, and “there are discrepancies between Twitter election-related blog posts and Twitter policies in the Terms of Service.”
The group also said that “YouTube has the largest cracks in terms of policy protections. The company lacks transparency on its approach to curtail if not take down violative content. There were also few specifics on moderation and enforcement practices (such as the existence of civic-integrity teams, moderation across languages, etc.).”
“While they claim to have crafted and enforced new policies addressing the spread of such toxic content, these claims are difficult for independent auditors to verify. The companies’ websites are tangles of contradictory policies and standards that are difficult to unravel” Free Press said
It urged reporters covering the technology sector to take nothing from the platforms at face value, adding that every claim must be backed by empirical evidence and a full-field view of its impact.